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Joe Manchin III, Governor
Frank Jezioro, Director

News Release : October 10, 2008

 Hoy Murphy, Public Information Officer (304) 558-2003 ext. 365 hoy.r.murphy@wv.gov

 Rob Tallman, Wildlife Resources Section (304) 637-0245 robtallman@wvdnr.gov  

Bird Strike at Tucker County High School on September 29

            Early on the morning of September 29, 2008, a large bird kill at the Tucker County High School near Hambleton, West Virginia, was reported to Division of Natural Resources personnel.  DNR Wildlife Resources Section (WRS) biologists, along with conservation officers, representatives from the Tucker County Health Department, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), and the U.S. Forest Service responded to the report and found evidence of a large bird strike at the school.

            Officials recovered 501 birds representing 31 species at the site. Seven birds recovered and were released alive. The remaining 494 specimens were collected and identified by WRS biologists. More than 80 percent of the birds were warblers. Bird banders from the Allegheny Front Migratory Observatory and Powdermill Nature Reserve verified the identifications.

            Officials collected the majority of the birds along or near the outside walls of the school and from the school roof.  Some specimens were also collected from the adjacent parking areas and athletic field. All evidence was consistent with a large scale collision event. Initial speculation suggested that disease and/or poisoning caused the deaths, but no evidence supports this claim.

            Additionally, as part of standard procedure, sample specimens officials from the West Virginia Department of Health and U.S. Department of Agriculture tested sample specimens for both West Nile Virus and Avian Influenza. All samples tested negative for both diseases. An additional sample was sent to the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Laboratory in Athens, Georgia, for necropsy. All specimens examined at this facility exhibited trauma consistent with a bird strike, including extensive hemorrhage, and fractured skulls, wings and legs.

            Officials from the WRS and the USFWS are working with the Tucker County School Board of Education and Allegheny Power to remedy the situation at the Tucker County High School.  They will modify existing lighting to make the site less attractive to migratory birds. The site will be monitored for additional mortality for the remaining 2008 migratory period and this monitoring effort is planned to continue into future years.

            The peak of neotropical songbird migration occurs in late September and early October and is concentrated along mountain ridges. Large bird strikes like the Tucker County High School event are not uncommon throughout North America during this time frame.

            Events like these occur when several environmental conditions occur simultaneously in proximity to a lighted man-made structure. These conditions typically include dense fog, southerly winds and a dome of artificial light surrounding a structure. The event can be further amplified by a period of rain prior to the event that concentrates birds by delaying migration.

            This was the case with the Tucker County event. Three days of rain prior to September 29 were followed by a passing cold front that generated southerly winds and ideal migration conditions. These birds headed south, encountered dense fog along Backbone Mountain, were attracted by the dome of light surrounding the school, became disoriented, and began to circle the structure, crashing into windows and the outside walls. Some birds may have died from exhaustion from constant circling.

            Similar events have been documented in West Virginia in the past. Forty birds of 14 species died on October 5, 1999, in Monterville in Randolph County; and at Snowshoe Mountain Resort in Pocahontas County on October 15, 1985, officials collected 1,336 birds of 30 species.


[Editor’s note: For more information, including a chart showing the number of each species killed, contact: Rob Tallman, Ornithologist, DNR Wildlife Resources Section at (304) 637-0245 or robtallman@wvdnr.gov.]