News 16/09/2020 Dead Birds, New Mexico Migration with iNaturalist Project mention

Sharing an interesting article from Canadian News that mentions a Southwest Avian Mortality Project
Article here:‘Unprecedented’: Birds mysteriously dropping dead across southwestern U.S.


Wow… I had not heard of such before. arghhh!

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I hadn’t heard of it either until this week and I live in NM. I did get a query from one of the biologists mentioned in the article, which suggested it was something more than just a few migrating birds found dead. The iNat SW Avian Mortality Project is an important effort to try to understand what’s going on.

My understanding is that specimens of dead birds are being collected for necropsy but results may not be available for a couple of weeks.

Interesting to note that this awful event, and the media coverage around it, has broken through the consciousness of several friends and family who have forwarded me various articles, and even though they are not on iNaturalist, they told me about the iNat project.


We’ve gotten quite a few emails from concerned folks at help@inaturalist, so it definitely seems to be breaking through. I’m talking to the SW Avian Mortality Project folks in a little while.


I was over southern Wyoming this past week and saw many dead birds as well, wonder if others have noticed in other areas

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We have had several House Finches die on our property. Unfortunately I disposed of before seeing the article. Tonight my wife and observed both a male and female House Finch that are visibly sick.(Eyes oozing, puffed and damaged feathers, difficulty flying more than 8 ft above the ground and still for unusually long periods.) Have not observe other bird species such as sparrows, Nuthatches, and Chickadees to be affected. We are in NM in the Mountains east of Albuquerque.

Note, I posted observations for both birds but pictures were not great.
See observation here:


Welcome to the Forum, @nmcoyote !


The piece I read said that most of the birds had no fat reserves. They basically starved to death.

I am new to iNaturalist and I have just added a dead bird for the Northwest Aviation Mortality Project. I think it’s a barn swallow. Will my observation be posted in the Northwest Aviation Mortality Project page automatically?

I has to be annotated as Dead, then it’ll be included in the project:

I just annotated your observation so it should appear in the project in the next few minutes.


I’ve been annotating as Dead some of the recent bird records from NM and sometimes the record automatically gets assigned right away to the SW Avian Mortality Project and other times it doesn’t. Are these records being pulled into the project automatically if they meet the criteria, even if it doesn’t show up in the record right away?

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Are you referring to the project badge on the observation? Because observations can potentially meet the requirement for thousands of projects, we only show project badges if the observer has joined the project in question.

If you’re referring to the project page itself, that’s cached for a few minutes, so it can take a few minutes for new observations to be included. New, in this case, meaning observations that have just met the requirements of the project.

URLs and screenshots of specific cases are always really helpful if you have questions.

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Okay, thanks … wasn’t sure if the observer had to sign up as a member of this project to have their record added.

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No, that’s only necessary if you see this requirement on the project page of a collection project:


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House Finches with damaged eyes are a separate thing from the current smoke and mass-mortality event. They are infected with Mycoplasma gallisepticum, which causes a disease named House-Finch Eye Disease. You can read more about it on Wikipedia and many other places on the web, e.g.

Some of my relatives live in New Mexico, and they report that there was a sudden and unseasonable cold snap at the same time the dead birds showed up. (They collected several from their yard.)

Migrating birds almost always fly around large disturbances. I know this partly from my job, which involves tracking birds using radio tags, but the best evidence is from weather radar, where you can see flocks of birds migrating at night change course to avoid storms. I have no doubt that they would try to fly around smoke clouds as well as storms. So I theorize that a lot of warblers, flycatchers, sparrows, swallows, and other small birds which normally would have migrated down the coast of California diverted inland to avoid the smoke. Then they ran into a cold air mass, which, together with the longer route, essentially caused them to run out of fuel. Normally they would have landed along the coast, found enough food to refuel, and continued. This time, they landed in a very dry area, and starved.

Migration is incredibly fuel-intensive. Like, amazingly, almost impossibly so. Many migrants increase their body weight by 50% in the weeks leading up to migration by adding fat and muscle mass. They also reduce the mass of organs not necessary for migration. Some species fly from Canada to Venezuela in ~3 days, and use more than half their body-weight to do it. (Incidentally, losing that much weight that fast would kill a mammal). Mass-mortality events like this one have been recorded many times in the past. One of the largest was 1.5 million dead birds sometime around 1900, if I remember right. (I’m not finding it on the web, but I’m reasonably sure I’m remembering this correctly.) Usually they’re caused by unlucky bad weather at just the wrong time, e.g. a hurricane blowing a lot of small birds out to sea or an early snow-storm.

So, yes, this is horrible. Probably not directly due to smoke inhalation, though.


The sudden blast of winter weather in NM during Sep 8-9 undoubtedly caused some bird mortality, and there are some iNat records from eastern NM that reflect that. Coldest early Sept I’ve ever experienced here. However the unusual number of dead birds being found, especially in southern NM, go back to late August. I guess we’ll have to wait and see what the results of the necropsies are.

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Incidentally, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish is getting the word out to its email lists about these mortalities and its news release provides guidance on how to get and use the iNaturalist app and to record observations under the SW Avian Mortality Project.

The news release also notes: “Over the past week, Department biologists have collected approximately 300 samples from the public and partner agencies. Samples will be sent to the National Wildlife Health Center. Samples are also being collected by biologists at White Sands Missile Range and New Mexico State University. Migratory song birds such as warblers and swallows are the primary species that have been collected.”


This article here may be from that email push:


Unfortunately those instructions will result in frustration because the project is a collection project and you can’t add observations to a collection project.