Thousands of eared grebes, a a duck-like aquatic bird, were migrating to the Mexican coast for the winter when they mistook a Wal-Mart parking lot for a body of water.
CBS reports that the flock of eared grebes crashed down into football fields, a parking lot, and other snow-covered surfaces in Utah on Monday night. There’s no official count of how many of the birds died, but volunteers say they rescued around 3,500 ducks while another 1500 died in the crash.
Teresa Griffin, the wildlife program manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource’s southern region, said:
“They’re just everywhere. It’s been nonstop. All our employees are driving around picking them up, and we’ve got so many people coming to our office and dropping them off.”
Griffin said that the eared grebes were probably confused due to the stormy conditions in the area.
“The storm clouds over the top of the city lights made it look like a nice, flat body of water. All the conditions were right. So the birds landed to rest, but ended up slamming into the pavement.”
The crash occurred in Cedar City, Utah. Officials believe that the birds were migrating to Mexico when they decided to stop for a rest on what they thought was a winter lake.
Mass bird deaths are relatively common but they hardly ever happen in such large numbers. The National Wildlife Health Center says that there have been more than 175 mass bird deaths (a crash that kills more than 1000 birds) in the last 10 years.
Griffin told the CS Monitor:
“Before there were (artificial lights), the sky was always paler than the ground. When all of a sudden there’s light all over the place, they don’t know which way is up anymore. I’ve been here 15 years, and this was the worst downing I’ve seen.”
The eared grebes weren’t the only things that were falling from the sky this week. People in England saw an even stranger, and less deadly, occurrence when it started raining apples.