BILLINGS, Mont. — Wildlife officials say a hail storm packing 70-mile-per-hour winds killed or maimed more than 11,000 pelicans, cormorants and other birds when it rolled over a central Montana lake and nesting area.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks officials said Friday that the storm with 2-inch hail stones killed about 20 to 30 percent of the waterfowl at Big Lake Wildlife Management.
Some birds with broken wings and other injuries are not expected to survive.
Agency spokesman Bob Gibson says the lake northwest of Billings had attracted more birds than usual this summer after a wet spring.
Gibson says it's not unheard of for hail storms to kill birds. He does not know how the toll from Sunday's storm compares to other events.
Wildlife officials will monitor the lake for possible disease caused by rotting carcasses.
The following is a press release from Montana FWP:
A hailstorm that flattened crops, broke windows and wrecked roofs and vehicles throughout the region Sunday also killed and maimed more than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area west of Molt.
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks biologists who visited the lake this week picked up dead ducks and shorebirds with broken wings, smashed skulls, internal damage and other injuries consistent with massive blunt-force trauma. They reported thousands of additional dead or badly injured waterfowl and wetland birds in and around the lake.
A neighboring landowner reported baseball-sized hail that broke windows in the area Sunday evening. Local weather reports said Molt and Rapelje suffered two-inch hail propelled by a 70-mile-per-hour wind.
FWP wildlife biologist Justin Paugh estimated that 20 to 30 percent of the birds at the lake were killed or injured. Of the birds that still are alive, Paugh estimated that five percent of ducks on the lake and 30 percent to 40 percent of living pelicans and cormorants show some sign of injury or impaired movement – mostly broken wings and broken wing feathers.
FWP’s Big Lake Wildlife Management Area features a shallow, often-seasonal lake and wetland that are nesting areas for dozens of species of ducks, Canada geese, double-crested cormorants, shorebirds, gulls, pelicans and other waterfowl. Because of wet weather this past spring, the lake filled and currently covers around 4,000 acres.
Paugh and wildlife research specialist Jay Watson were back at the lake later this week to continue their survey of the damage to birds and try to assess the potential for additional problems to crop up.
Paugh said his scientific estimates show that the hailstorm killed or badly injured between 11,000 and 13,000 waterfowl and shorebirds, some of which still are alive but will not survive their injuries from the storm. Most of the dead birds have blown ashore.
Among future concerns is the possibility that disease – including botulism – caused by rotting carcasses could further devastate the bird populations. FWP will continue to monitor that situation.
“On a positive note,” Paugh said, “the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy. Life will go on.”