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Hail Kills 11K Birds in Montana Storm — and the Birds Likely Had No Warning: Report

Helen Murphy

Thousands of birds were killed during a hailstorm in Montana last week, the state’s Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks said.

According to a press release from the department, the Aug. 11 storm “killed and maimed more than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds” who were at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area located west of Molt, Montana.

The Big Lake Wildlife Management Area features a shallow lake, as well as wetland that serves as a nesting area for “dozens” of species of birds, the department explained in the release.

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Biologists from the department visited the area after the storm last week, where they picked up the injured and dead animals. The birds’ injuries included “broken wings, smashed skulls, internal damage and other injuries consistent with massive blunt-force trauma,” the release said.

Justin Paugh, a wildlife biologist with the department, estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the birds at the lake were either killed or injured.

Paugh also estimated that the storm “killed or badly injured” 11,000 to 13,000 waterfowl and shorebirds — including some that are still alive but will not survive their injuries.

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The storm saw wind speeds of 70 miles per hour and two-inch pieces of hail, the release said, citing local weather reports from Molt and Rapelje. A nearby landowner also reportedly said that he saw “baseball-sized hail.”

According to the Washington Post, the birds at the lake may have had no warning of the incoming hailstorm, as there were reportedly indications that the hail began to fall first, minutes before the rain. The Post also reports that the hail was “spiked and jagged.”

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Though the storm is now over, biologists with the Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks are still concerned about the long-term effects of the tragedy.

According to the release, it’s possible that diseases caused by the thousands of rotting carcasses could threaten the remaining bird population. The department is continuing to monitor the situation.

“On a positive note,” Paugh said, “the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.”