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Study finds wildfires contribute to migratory bird die-offs

Climate change responsible for amplifying effects
A variety of dead migratory birds collected from White Sands Missile Range and sites in Dona Ana County, N.M., were examined by researchers at Knox Hall at New Mexico State University before being sent for necropsy Sept. 12. A new study suggests the die-off was the result of wildfires. (Martha Desmond/New Mexico State University)

FARMINGTON – A new study out of Colorado State University suggests migratory birds that faced a mass die-off in fall 2020 still face a serious challenge to their survival – wildfires.

Researchers with the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish in December reported that most of the migratory birds arriving in New Mexico were starving, most likely because of an unusual storm. A news release sent by the department in December said lab reports indicated the “single abnormality shared by nearly all birds was body condition ranging from poor to severely emaciated.”

While the results didn’t identify a single reason for the deaths, all the birds were lacking nourishment and physically overexerted, according to the release.

Now, as migratory birds make a comeback in New Mexico, a study out of Colorado State University suggests wildfires remain a danger.

In the study by Di Yang, Anni Yang, Jue Yang, Rongting Xu and Han Qui, the abstract said, “Wildfires resulting in the loss of habitats and emission of particulate matter and volatile organic compounds pose serious threats to wildlife and human populations, especially for avian species, the respiratory systems of which are sensitive to air pollution.”

However, the researchers said climate change has caused fires to burn hotter, spread faster and become harder to control. Then, those wildfires not only diminish the air quality making birds respiratory systems more vulnerable, but also force migration in birds that were not yet ready to migrate.

“Our findings highlight the important impact of extreme weather and natural disasters on bird biology, survival and migration, which can provide significant insights into bird biodiversity, conservation and ecosystem sustainability,” the study read.

mmitchell@durangoherald.com

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