One small town in the US state of Idaho experienced what some might deem as an apocalyptic scene over the weekend: golf ball-sized hail, severe winds, and severe thunder and lightning. To add to the chaos, a flock of more than 100 geese plummeted thousands of feet to the ground.
“There was turmoil everywhere,” James Brower, an official with the Idaho Department of Fish and Game (IDFG), told IFLScience in an interview.
Despite the seemingly extraordinary circumstances, Brower says there’s a logical explanation.
“The geese were caught flying during the wrong time in a horrible situation,” he said. “It appears the geese were struck by lightning based on the damage done to them.”
When IDFG officer Jacob Berl arrived at the parking lot the Saturday after the storm, 51 geese were dead and located within 200 yards of each other – a clue that Brower says indicates they were killed in an instantaneous event.
“Had they been killed by hail or something else, we would suspect there would be injured geese still on-scene,” he said.
The following Monday, officers were called to a nearby laboratory adjacent to the parking lot after reports of more than 60 geese had been spotted on the building’s roof. Suffering from similar injuries – including stomachs that had reportedly blown open – officers believe they were also caught in the same storm.
Snow geese fly at high elevations, and while later in the migration season, Brower says it's likely they were heading north to Canada for the summer. Lightning storms aside, these migratory waterfowl face other challenges during their annual pilgrimage.
“Sometimes with waterfowl we’ll see that when a storm does appear, they will look for shelter and find that in a body of water,” said Brower. “When a parking lot gets shiny with water, they’ll mistake that for a pond and they’ll come down really quickly and dive down, injuring themselves.”
But as captured in the image, the geese also suffered burn marks – a further sign of electrocution.
What does one do with more than 100 fried birds? Take them to the dump, of course.
“We have a waste treatment center with a dead animal pit [in our county] where we take our animals to be disposed of,” said Brower, who continued that the birds are buried in the off-chance they are infected with an infectious disease.
Brower confirms that this rare event won't adversely affect populations.
“Even though the loss of 100 geese is a super sad situation, mother nature is a cruel animal sometimes,” he said. “We don’t think about how storms affect wildlife out there. This is an event that’s not typical for us, but it can happen. Mother nature can do some weird things.”