In Utah, thousands of birds are mistaking pavement for water and plunging to their deaths

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This is so awful. For the last several days, thousands of migrating grebes — a freshwater diving bird — have been hurtling to their doom in parking lots, football fields, and other flat, snow-covered regions throughout southern Utah; apparently, the birds have been mistaking the surfaces for ponds.

"The storm clouds over the top of the city lights made it look like a nice, flat body of water," said Teresa Griffin of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "So the birds landed to rest, but ended up slamming into the pavement."


According to state officials, at least 3,000 surviving birds, like the one pictured up top, have been rescued since they began descending on Utah Monday evening, and have been relocated to unfrozen bodies of water. Thousands more, however, have not been so lucky; 1,500 are believed to have perished on Monday night alone.

"These birds just aren't built for landing on the ground, they're designed for the water," said Lynn Chamberlain, a spokesperson for DWR's southern region. "They are big-bodied birds relative to their size and compared to [the length of] their wings. And when they land, they come down fast, at 30 to 35 mph."

"They hit the ground and tumble, and that leads to broken wings, broken necks and broken bodies," he explained.

Fortunately, it sounds like people have been very helpful with caring for those birds that have managed to survive. "The volunteer effort in the community has been amazing," said Griffin. "People have been wonderful."


Hang in there, little grebes! Fly safe! [The Salt Lake Tribune | USA Today]

Images by Utah Division of Wildlife Services, Lynn Chamberlain via AP