Research ties worsening wildfires to bird mortalities


Recent research from the University of Utah explores how wildfires affect migratory birds across the western United States. “We started to see these alarming signs with the migratory birds in the West,” biology graduate student Kyle Kittelberger said. “We got these huge mass mortality events, with the peak of the mortalities occurring in early to mid-September…these were largely occurring in New Mexico, but also throughout states in the southwest. So, Colorado, [and] here in Utah, we were having mortalities.”

Researchers collected over 10,000 dead birds from the 2020 mortality event. However, it’s probable that many birds were missed simply because they died in areas that weren’t easily accessible to humans.

“It’s likely that upwards of 100,000+ could have perished across the Southwest, just in regions where people were not out finding these dead birds,” Kittelberger said.

To Kittelberger, the timing between widespread bird deaths and the peak of the 2020 wildfire season seemed to be more than a coincidence.

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