Montana Public Radio

Hail Storm Kills Thousands Of Birds West Of Billings

Aug 16, 2019

More than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds were killed by hail Sunday at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area west of Billings.

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 estimated that 11,000 to 13,000 birds were killed.

A neighboring landowner reported baseball-sized hail that broke windows in the area. Local weather reports said Molt and Rapelje suffered two-inch hail propelled by a 70-mile-per-hour wind.

A FWP wildlife biologist estimated that 20% to 30% of the birds at the lake were killed or injured. Of the birds that still are alive, an estimated 5% of ducks on the lake and 30% to 40% of living pelicans and cormorants show some sign of injury or impaired movement – mostly broken wings and broken wing feathers.

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.

The agency noted that the lake is still covered with waterfowl that are alive and healthy.

See the lake from above, before the storm, as captured on July 26 in this drone video.