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1,500 birds die crashing into Utah parking lot, roads

December 14, 2011 |  6:58 pm

Utah wildlife officials were cleaning up thousands of dead and surviving migratory birds that crashed into a Wal-Mart parking lot, roads and other land after mistaking them for bodies of water.

Thousands of eared grebes, a duck-like aquatic bird, were migrating toward Mexico when they apparently mistook solid areas around Cedar City and St. George as water. Storm clouds above the city lights probably confused the birds, said Lynn Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

Eared GrebesAbout 1,500 of the birds were killed in the Monday night incident, but officials had rescued and released into water more than 3,000 by Wednesday evening.

Such incidents are rare, Chamberlain said, but not unheard of. “But this is by far the largest we’ve had down here,” he said.  “Sometimes it’s an isolated flock, but this one was thousands.”

In some cases, wildlife officials used cardboard boxes to carry the survivors to bodies of water.

No property damage or injuries to people were reported, Chamberlain said.

Grebes are particularly good at flying, but are not adept at taking off from land because their feet are positioned so far back on their bodies, said Kimball Garrett, head of the ornithology department at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. The positioning of their feet also makes it hard for the birds to walk, he said.

Because of that, the surviving birds were stranded where they landed, Garrett said. “They can propel themselves underwater, but are essentially useless for getting around on land.” 


--Stephen Ceasar
Photo: In this photo provided by Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, an agency employee frees some surviving grebes on Dec. 13, 2011, at Stratton Pond in Hurricane, Utah. Credit: Lynn Chamberlain / Utah Division of Wildlife Services / Associated Press