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New Mexico residents asked to help research bird die-off

Residents have reported birds dying in groups and living birds exhibiting lethargic and unusual behavior.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto
Foggy morning in the mountains with flying birds over silhouettes of hills. Serenity sunrise with soft sunlight and layers of haze.

LAS CRUCES, N.Mex — Researchers at New Mexico State University in Las Cruces have invited residents to share photos or written descriptions via their cellphones involving a recent mass die-off of migratory birds in the state.

Professor Martha Desmond said Monday that reports from around the state indicate migratory species are dying at unprecedented numbers, which could be caused by multiple conditions from drought to wildfires, the Las Cruces Sun-News reported.

Biologists from the university and White Sands Missile Range examined about 300 carcasses last week gathered in the region, but further observations could place casualties in the hundreds of thousands, “if not millions," Desmond said.

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, experts said. The species did not include native species such as roadrunner or quail.

University graduate student and researcher Allison Salas said a mobile app through the Southwest Avian Mortality Project allows the public to contribute to the research.

“Anybody that comes in contact with a dead bird can take a picture or just write a description and upload it to the app.” Salas said. “As the project manager, I can see all of those submissions. … It just helps us monitor the full extent of this mass mortality.”

The New Mexico Wildlife Center in Espanola confirmed Monday that the state Department of Game and Fish would collect bird carcasses from their facility for laboratory analysis.

Desmond said the collected carcasses will be sent to a lab but results could take weeks.

She argued that the birds could be impacted by unseasonable cold weather and early snowfall but said southern New Mexico temperatures should not be cold enough to kill the animals.

Audubon New Mexico Executive Director Jon Hayes also said there were likely overlapping factors in the die-off, but without necropsies they were guessing as to the cause.

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