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Hundreds Of Waterfowl Dead After Landing On Northwest Iowa Roads Possibly Mistaken For Wetlands

Ducks and geese started their migration after a bitter cold hit the Dakotas and Canada.

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources said hundreds of migratory birds were struck and killed by cars in northwest Iowa after they landed on wet parking lots and roads they likely mistook for marshes and wetlands.

Ducks and geese started their southern migration from their northern breeding grounds in central Canada and prairie states like North and South Dakota after a bitter cold hit. Then Monday night, they flew into heavy rains and winds and needed to stop. They tried to find a place to land, but state waterfowl biologist Orrin Jones said it was hard for them to see.

“And under those really poor visibility conditions, the dark wet pavement could easily be mistaken as a waterbody,” Jones said, adding that it was hard for drivers to see those birds on the roads.

Cherokee County seems to be the epicenter, Jones said. State conservation officer Steve Griebel said Plymouth and Woodbury counties saw dead waterfowl as well. Griebel started getting phone calls Monday night about ducks on roads in the Sioux City area. When he drove out Tuesday to see, he counted more than 200 ducks on U.S. Highway 20 between Sioux City and U.S. Highway 71 in Woodbury County. Among the species, he saw bluebills, buffleheads and mallards.

“Most of them are gone already the way it appears,” said Griebel in a Tuesday afternoon interview. “They didn’t hold to the vehicle traffic pretty well … I did see quite a few scavengers on my trip back west this morning.”

Jones said migration is a challenging and dangerous journey for birds and these waterfowl die-offs are rare but not unheard of. The number of ducks and geese struck by cars in northwest Iowa likely isn’t big enough to impact their populations, which are “quite abundant,” he said.

“These kind of circumstances are very perilous for birds,” Jones said. “And this does happen every so often.”

Katie Peikes was a reporter for Iowa Public Radio from 2018 to 2023. She joined IPR as its first-ever Western Iowa reporter, and then served as the agricultural reporter.