2,000 Snow Geese Fall Dead From Idaho Sky, Except They Didn’t

Mar 18, 2015

If you Google "snow geese" here are some of the headlines you'll find right now...

  • “Thousands of Snow Geese Fall Dead From Sky in Idaho” - Yahoo News
  • “2,000 Snow Geese Drop Dead From the Sky in Idaho” CNN
  • “2,000 Snow Geese Fall Dead ‘Out of the Sky’ in Idaho” – USA Today
  • “Basically, They Just Fell Out of the Sky’: 2,000 Snow Geese Found Dead in Idaho” – Washington Post

But Jeff Knetter, Idaho Fish and Game’s top bird expert says it didn’t happen. Knetter acknowledges about 2,000 snow geese were found dead from avian cholera in eastern Idaho’s Mud Lake Wildlife Management Area. But no one saw any birds fall from the sky, and there’s no reason to believe they did.

He thinks the misinformation comes from the fact that the bacteria that causes avian cholera kills very quickly.

“From the onset of infection to actual death is somewhere between six and 12 hours when an outbreak is going on,” Knetter says. “So it is entirely possible that a bird could die in flight, but not very common. It’s more likely that these birds are dying on the water.”

Knetter says snow geese die from avian cholera at Mud Lake and at sites across the country every year. He says biologists don’t know why it happens in mass die-offs like this one, but it’s common.

He says despite this disease and other perils, snow geese are doing well. He says their numbers have been steadily climbing for nearly 40 years. At this time of year there are about 20,000 snow geese at Mud Lake.

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

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