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NMSU, Los Alamos unite on research of migratory bird die-off

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Two years after New Mexico saw migratory birds literally falling from the sky, New Mexico State University and Los Alamos National Laboratory have announced plans to establish a research program on bird die-off.

the two entities will collaborate with the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies to recruit and train students to study “disaster ecology," the Santa Fe New Mexican reported Saturday.

A $250,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture combined with other funding sources will cover the cost for 24 students—graduate and undergraduate—to join the four-year program.

The students will examine how a changing climate is impacting migratory birds and leading to a die-off like one seen in the fall of 2020.

Sightings of groups of dead birds were reported by residents in the Taos area and at Valles Caldera National Preserve in the north to the cottonwood forest along the Rio Grande to southern New Mexico, including at White Sands Missile Range.

Biologists from several agencies collected hundreds of samples of dead warblers, swallows and other birds to the USGS' National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin for analysis.

The results showed starvation and unexpected weather were behind the die-off. Researchers at the time said many of the birds were severely emaciated. An unusual storm likely caused them to be disoriented and fly into objects or buildings.

They ruled out disease and poisoning.

Tim Wright, a NMSU biology professor, leads the school's aviation migration program.

“These birds are literally the canaries in a coal mine for how human activities are impacting the natural world,” he said.