Biologists ask public for help in investigating bird die-off


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Biologists are asking the public for help as they investigate a statewide die-off among migratory birds in New Mexico.

The state Game and Fish Department is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies to determine the number of deaths and reason for the occurrence. They’re asking people to use the iNaturalist app to upload photos and other information to help track the event.

Over the past week, biologists with the state agency have collected about 300 samples from the public and partner agencies. The samples are being sent to the National Wildlife Health Center for testing. Samples also are being collected by biologists at White Sands Missile Range and New Mexico State University.

Migratory song birds such as warblers and swallows account for most of the birds that have been collected so far.

Dead birds have been reported in the Taos area and at Valles Caldera National Preserve in the north to the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande to southern New Mexico. Experts say residents have reported birds dying in groups and living birds exhibiting lethargic and unusual behavior such as not eating, flying low or gathering on the ground and being hit by vehicles.

Scott Carleton, the migratory bird chief with the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Southwest Region, said the agency believes the recent mortalities in New Mexico are attributable to a fast-moving, severe cold front that pushed into the region.

“Temperatures dropped 30-40 degrees in just a few hours, disrupting the birds’ journeys along their migration routes causing them to drop out of migration into areas in the southern United States where water and food supplies necessary to replenish energy stores were limited,” he said.

Carleton said it’s a natural event that has been known to occur periodically.

Avian experts also say there could be overlapping factors and they won’t know for sure what is causing the deaths until necropsies are done. It could take a couple weeks to get the results.