Thousands of Migrating Birds Crash Land in Utah

By Maria Nikias

Dec 14, 2011 2:11pm

Thousands of birds migrating to the Gulf of Mexico crashed throughout Southern Utah on Monday night, resulting in a massive rescue effort that has continued to this morning.

“I’ve been working at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources for 25 years now, and we’ve had more birds come down yesterday than I’ve ever seen before,” said Lynn Chamberlain, the Conservation Outreach Manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Southern Region. “Over the period of my career I’ve seen this happen three or four times but never to this scale.”

The first reports of the crash came from a Walmart in St. George, Utah, on Monday around 11:30 p.m. The birds, called Eared Grebe, were migrating south to spend the winter in the Gulf of Mexico. Officials say the birds were found everywhere from 30 miles south to 10 miles north of Cedar City. Chamberlain says a combination of cloud cover, lights from the city and the snow on the ground can confuse the birds, causing them to crash land.

“They seem to come down in areas with lots of light,” said Chamberlain. “You’ve got the cloud cover, the lights of the city coming up, the snow on the ground, everything smooths it out and it looks like a lake to them.”

According to Chamberlain, around 2,500 to 3,000 birds were rescued yesterday.

“That’s just the survivors,” said Chamberlain. “You know what, it’s impossible to tell because it happened over such a large area. There are thousands.”

All of Monday and night and Tuesday rescuers spent time picking up birds to be rescued. The birds with substantial injuries were taken to the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources while those with small injuries were taken to an open body of water to be released.

“They depend on water for the ability to fly and for food,” said Chamberlain. “They physically can’t take off on the ground. They have to be on water, and we spent the entire night yesterday gathering up birds that were down and took them to an open body of water.”

The eared grebe is a small water bird with semi-wet feet that Chamberlain described as, “the next step up from a duck.” While the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources is still seeing these birds come into the office, Chamberlain says the support from the surrounding community is making a difference.

“We had a lot of help from the community,” said Chamberlain. “People picking them up and putting them in boxes and bringing them to our offices. We rallied and took care of these little birds.”

People who continue to find birds should drop them off at Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Southern Division at 1470 N Airport Rd, Cedar City, Utah.

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One of the birds rescued on Dec. 13. Credit: Lynn Chamberlain, Utah DWR

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