A major storm system in Montana with 70 mph winds and baseball-sized hail has killed or maimed over 11,000 wetland birds and waterfowl in a protected wildlife area.
The area had been teeming with ducks, pelicans, cormorants and other waterfowl due to an especially wet spring season prior to the catastrophic hailstorm that battered the creatures at Big Lake Wildlife Management Area on August 11, according to officials.
The creatures suffered “massive blunt-force trauma” including smashed skulls, broken wings, internal damage and other injuries while those who weren’t killed also suffered broken bones and flight feathers, according to officials with the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP) agency.
In a statement Friday, the FWP said:
“Biologists who visited the lake this week picked up dead ducks and shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls, internal damage and other injuries consistent with massive blunt-force trauma.
They reported thousands of additional dead or badly injured waterfowl and wetland birds in and around the lake.”
The agency added:
“A neighboring landowner reported baseball-sized hail that broke windows in the area on Sunday evening. Local weather reports said Molt and Rapelje suffered 2in hail propelled by a 70 mph wind.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh estimated that 20 to 30 per cent of the birds at the lake were killed or injured.
Of the birds that still are alive, Paugh estimated that 5 per cent of ducks on the lake and 30 per cent to 40 per cent of living pelicans and cormorants show some sign of injury or impaired movement.”
The Big Lake Wildlife Management Area covers about 6.25 square miles of the lake and surrounding wetlands and serves as a major nesting area for dozens of species including Canada geese, ducks, double-crested cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, grebes, pelicans and other freshwater birds.
“On a positive note, the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.”
Officials have expressed concern that the sheer volume of avian corpses poses the risk of disease in the area, including botulism, which is caused by rotting corpses.
FWP wildlife manager Kevin Rose told the Independent that the birds were killed as they nested or swam on the lake, but not while they were flying.
Wildlife officials and workers have been struggling to move as many of the deceased waterfowl onshore to prevent any threat to the surviving bird population. However, the ferocious storm has actually been of some assistance due to the fact that it “basically created a storm surge,” Rose added.
“Those birds that were killed were mostly pushed over to the side.”
The nearby towns of Molt and Rapelje also received two inches of hail that flattened crops, shattered windows, and pummeled roofs and vehicles in the area, according to local reports.