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Officials continue rescue, retrieval efforts after thousands of birds crash in Utah

By Stephen Ceasar, Los Angeles Times

LOS ANGELES — Wildlife officials were hauling away the dead and rescuing the survivors days after thousands of birds slammed into a Wal-Mart parking lot and other solid surfaces in southern Utah, apparently mistaking them for water.

The eared grebes, a ducklike aquatic bird, were migrating toward Mexico when they plunged into several areas around Cedar City and St. George, including roads and a football field. Storm clouds above the city lights probably confused the birds, said Lynn Chamberlain, a spokesman for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources.

About 1,500 grebes died in the Monday night incident. More than 3,000 have been rescued and released into water this week, officials said.

Such incidents are rare, Chamberlain said, but do happen. “But this is by far the largest we’ve had down here,” he said. “Sometimes it’s an isolated flock, but this one was thousands.”

In some cases, wildlife officials carried survivors in cardboard boxes, upending them into a pond or other water.

Grebes are particularly good at flying but not able to take off from land, said Kimball Garrett, head of the ornithology department at the Los Angeles County Natural History Museum. That’s because their feet are positioned so far back on their bodies, he said, which also makes it hard for them to walk.

Because of that, the surviving birds were stranded where they landed, Garrett said. “They can propel themselves underwater, but are essentially useless for getting around on land.”

©2011 the Los Angeles Times

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