Snowstorm kills birds in Yellowstone Park
May 2, 2005
The spring storm that brought five inches of new snow to Pinedale last week was the apparent cause of the deaths of over a hundred migratory birds in Yellowstone National Park.
In the early morning hours of April 27, 2005, a large number of migrating birds were found dead by Yellowstone National Park staff on the pavement and parking lot areas in the vicinity of Canyon Village after they had apparently encountered a heavy, spring snowstorm and tried to land. A preliminary investigation indicates that the birds probably mistook the wet and icy pavement for open water.
Birds were also found dead on the roof of the Canyon Visitor Center (under construction) and other buildings in the area, as well as paved roads within a mile of Canyon Village. Some birds were found dead after having collided with trees and crashing into buildings. Outdoor lighting in the Canyon parking lot could have also lured the birds, causing the collision into buildings.
Preliminary results show a minimum of 127 individual birds, comprised of 9 species of birds, were killed. Included in the tally were 105 Eared Grebe; 8 American Coot; 3 Green-winged Teal; 3 Less Scaup; 3 Northern Shoveler; 2 Cinnamon Teal; and 1 each of Western Grebe, American Wigeon, and Ruddy Duck.
Birds that did survive the landing but were injured were quickly killed by Common Ravens and coyotes. Grebes, in particular, have a difficult time taking off from surfaces other than water, making them particularly vulnerable to predators. American Coot, Lesser Scaup, and Ruddy Duck also have difficulty lifting off the ground once they have landed.
Park officials note that it is not unusual for birds to become confused and disoriented in heavy snow or fog, which is most likely what happened in this instance. Park officials removed the bird carcasses from the developed area and placed them in a backcountry location to be used by wild scavengers.