Dead birds are turning up by the thousands.

*Updated on September 21, 2020, at 4:38 p.m.:

Concerns are growing after thousands of dead migratory birds have been found following weeks of extreme weather, drought, and wildfires burning in the Southwest. Reports of dead birds have come in from Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Texas, and some from Mexico.

Several things may be contributing to the increased mortality of the birds; however, no one cause can explain what is happening and why so many are dying. The southwest has experienced high temperatures and drought for the past couple of months, and an early freeze wreaked havoc on Colorado and northern New Mexico. Heavy smoke and ash from wildfires burning across California, Colorado, and Oregon also blanketed the southwest, making the air quality extremely poor.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported getting several reports of dead birds in the Gunnison and Durango areas, as well as throughout La Plata, Vail, and Eagle counties.

The birds are of varying species, most have been smaller migratory species. CPW tweeted last Monday that the bird deaths are likely due to more than one factor, a combination of bad weather, high wind, and poor air quality. There is some concern that these bird deaths could be related to a larger problem as several other states have also reported the same incidents.

In New Mexico, it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of dead birds have been found, and the number seems to be growing. The worry among wildlife experts there is that this is an unprecedented occurrence. While the sudden drop in temperature from last week’s storm can explain some of the bird deaths, new birds were being found deceased before the storm and some have been found well after the storm, so it cannot be pinpointed to that event. 

A large number of dead birds were first reported at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico on August 20 (well before the storm). There have also been reports of odd bird behavior; for example, birds gathering in large numbers on the ground, acting lethargic, pecking the ground for food, and then dying. 

"We began seeing isolated mortalities in August, so something else has been going on aside the weather events and we don't know what it is. So that in itself is really troubling. This is devastating." Martha Desmond, a researcher from New Mexico State University, told CNN. "It's just terrible. The number is in the six figures. Just by looking at the scope of what we're seeing, we know this is a very large event, hundreds of thousands and maybe even millions of dead birds, and we're looking at the higher end of that."

Researchers have sent some of the deceased bird specimens to be analyzed by the Wildlife Service Forensics Laboratory in Ashland, Oregon. It will be weeks before the results will be ready. 

An online database, the Southwest Avian Mortality Project, has been started so that people in the affected states can report finding any dead birds and researcher can collect data to learn more about why these birds are dying in such high numbers.

If you find any dead birds please report them, and if possible collect them—it is not recommended to handle or touch them. If you do preserve the birds, please double bag them and freeze them.

With everything that 2020 has already thrown at us, the unexplained death of thousands of birds is not anything to play around with. We hope that researchers get to the bottom of what is causing this very soon. 

Have you seen any strange bird behavior recently? Let us know what you think about all of this in the comments.