Wildfires contributing to mass die-off of birds in SW? + Feral swine bomb hits Canada

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Birds 'falling out of the sky' in mass die-off in southwestern US

EXCERPT: Thousands of migrating birds have inexplicably died in south-western US in what ornithologists have described as a national tragedy that is likely to be related to the climate crisis. Flycatchers, swallows and warblers are among the species “falling out of the sky” as part of a mass die-off across New Mexico, Colorado, Texas, Arizona and farther north into Nebraska, with growing concerns there could be hundreds of thousands dead already, said Martha Desmond, a professor in the biology department at New Mexico State University (NMSU). Many carcasses have little remaining fat reserves or muscle mass, with some appearing to have nose-dived into the ground mid-flight.

[...] Long-distance migrants flying south from tundra landscapes in Alaska and Canada pass over America’s south-west to reach winter grounds in Central and South America. During this migration it is crucial they land every few days to refuel before continuing their journey.

Historic wildfires across the western states of the US could mean they had to re-route their migration away from resource-rich coastal areas and move inland over the Chihuahuan desert, where food and water are scarce, essentially meaning they starved to death. “They’re literally just feathers and bones,” Allison Salas, a graduate student at NMSU who has been collecting carcasses, wrote in a Twitter thread about the die-off. “Almost as if they have been flying until they just couldn’t fly any more.”

The south-western states of the US have experienced extremely dry conditions – believed to be related to the climate crisis – meaning there could be fewer insects, the main food source for migrating birds. A cold snap locally between 9 and 10 September could have also worsened conditions for the birds.

Any of these weather events may have triggered birds to start their migration early, having not built up sufficient fat reserves. Another theory is that the smoke from the wildfires may have damaged their lungs. “It could be a combination of things. It could be something that’s still completely unknown to us,” said Salas... (MORE - details)

USA's "feral swine bomb" takes root in Canada

EXCERPTS: [...] Canada doesn’t have comparable data, but Ryan Brook, a University of Saskatchewan biologist who researches wild pigs, predicts that they will occupy 386,000 square miles across the country by the end of 2020, and they’re currently expanding at about 35,000 square miles a year. ... Ontario has moved more slowly to deal with pigs in the 400,000-square-mile province. “We’re not talking in the thousands,” Downe says of how many wild pigs roam Ontario.

[...] “I’ve heard it referred to as a feral swine bomb,” says Dale Nolte, manager of the National Feral Swine Damage Management Program at the United States Department of Agriculture. “They multiply so rapidly. To go from a thousand to two thousand, it’s not a big deal. But if you’ve got a million, it doesn’t take long to get to 4 [million], then 8 million.”

Most wild pigs are a mixture of domestic breeds and European wild boar. “The problem with the hybrids is you get all of the massive benefits of all of that genetics. It creates what we’d call super pigs,” says Brook. Domestic pigs have been bred to be fertile year-round and have big litters — now averaging more than 10 in each — and also to grow large. (Farmers limit their diets in captivity, but they fatten up when they graze at will in the wild.) Boars, meanwhile, have heavy fur and other attributes that help them brave the winter months. Wild or domestic, the species is highly intelligent with a keen sense of smell.

Over the last few decades, wild pigs in some regions have grown to unmanageable numbers: Texas has about 1.5 million and spends upwards of $4 million annually controlling them, with little hope of eradicating the population. Florida, Georgia, and California also have vast populations. “Pig populations are completely out of control,” Brook says of North America in general. “The efforts to deal with them are about 1 percent of what’s currently needed.” He says that his province of Saskatchewan will soon have more wild pigs than people.

Years ago, preventing feral pig populations hardly seemed worth the money, but today these animals are responsible for an estimated $2.5 billion worth of damage in the U.S. each year, mostly by mowing down farmers’ crops, as well as attacking calves, lambs, and pregnant livestock, and destroying native plants, animals, and precious habitats. A feral pig can host at least 30 viral and bacterial diseases, along with nearly 40 parasites. If African swine fever were to arrive in North America, feral pigs could be pivotal in spreading this devastating and deadly porcine disease... (MORE - details)

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