WASHINGTON — Thousands of birds were killed on Aug. 11 when a destructive hailstorm lashed regions northwest of Billings, Mont., wildlife officials said Wednesday.
According to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks, the supercell thunderstorm ‘‘killed and maimed more than 11,000 waterfowl and wetland birds at the Big Lake Wildlife Management Area west of Molt.’’
Molt is about 20 miles west-northwest of Billings, Montana’s largest city.
According to the release, biologist Justin Paugh estimates that roughly a quarter of the birds at the lake were injured or killed. About 5 percent of surviving ducks and a third of living pelicans/cormorants ‘‘show some sign of injury or impaired movement.’’
The storm packed 3-inch hail and winds gusting to 74 miles per hour.
There are indications that, near the lake, large hail may have begun falling first, beating the rain by as much as five or six minutes. The birds likely had no warning.
Another feature of the storm was that the hail was spiked and jagged. Correlation coefficient radar shows an area of reduced returns where more irregular shapes were detected within the storm. This is possibly the pocket of hail that decimated the birds. A concentrated layer of chaotic shapes, whether biological or meteorological, can be seen in a narrow strip near the surface.
While three quarters of Big Lake’s bird population survived, biologists are concerned that brewing disease could threaten the birds that remain.