A major hailstorm wiped out thousands of birds over the weekend, so Utah Division of Wildlife Resources officials went out to assess casualties, Monday.
Experts say the lucky birds were able to take cover under bridges along the Antelope Island Causeway, but unfortunately 9,000 of them simply did not have time to get there.
“They’re very small, very delicate,” explained John Neill, Avian Biologist for the DWR.
Neill says that is why flock after flock of Red-necked Phalaropes dropped from the sky during the storm, Friday. He says the migratory birds were likely heading to Northern Canada or Alaska for breeding season.
“Great Salt Lake’s a very important fuel stopover for them… it’s just a coincidence that the birds were here and the storm came at the same time,” Neill said.
Neill says the birds were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time, and it made for a sad outcome that no one could have prevented.
“It kind of makes me sick to my stomach,” Neill said, adding that he spent most of his Monday counting the dead fowl along the Antelope Island Causeway.
“A lot of the scavengers will take care of them and eat them, and it will be a good food source for them,” he explained.
Neill says he also found about 50 injured phalaropes.
“It’s not able to fly. It probably has a broken wing here,” he pointed out after picking one up.
Neill says most of the injured fowl will die.
“They’re able to feed, but they can’t fly…” he said. “Ground-based predators and ravens… will probably snatch them up,” adding that the DWR can not save them.
Neill says he can not even remember the last time weather conditions took out this many birds. He says it has been at least 10 years.