[Tweeters] Salt for Deicing Highways is killing the birds inSteven's Pass

Kelly McAllister mcallisters4 at comcast.net
Wed Feb 20 17:44:29 PST 2008

It's distressing. Four fresh carcasses, three Pine Siskins and a Red Crossbill, have been sent to the Wildlife Health Lab in Madison, Wisconsin. I'm a little surprised by the suggestion that snow plows are killing lots of birds. I had heard of birds being hit by vehicles but hadn't heard that snowplows were hitting them. This is a very unusual phenomenon, as far as I can tell from talking to people who've been around WSDOT for over a decade. The numbers of finches, Red Crossbills, Cassin's Finches, Pine Siskins, Evening Grosbeaks, and American Goldfinches, is unusually high which has gotten me to probing around in Christmas Bird Count results and elsewhere to try to learn the extent of irruptions that might be contributing to the numbers. I took note of Gene Hunn's comment about the Mountain Hemlock and Silver Fir cone crops.

It's tempting to say that salt is the big factor in attracting the birds and causing them to be slow in reacting to approaching vehicles but I'm withholding judgement on this until there's more evidence. I'm interested in what others think. At least some large flocks are congregating on a County road that is being sanded without salt so there is a level of attraction that is occurring simply due to the presence of grit in a landscape that is otherwise covered in deep snow. Apparently, the problem goes away as soon as you get to the outskirts of settlements like Leavenworth where people are providing seed.

I don't know all of the factors involved, but I'm hoping to learn more - soon. I think various Tweeters are likely to help in this. If fact, many have already shedded light on some things like the unusual numbers of White-winged Crossbills in the Steven's Pass area which, I think, is an indication of the overall attractiveness of this area to seed-eating finches this winter. Is there something special about the Steven's Pass area that sets it apart from Snoqualmie Pass and White Pass? Is it just its latitude? If highway 20 was open, would we be seeing the same thing there?

Kelly McAllister
Olympia, Washington
----- Original Message -----
From: Rolan Nelson
To: john dantoni ; tweeters at u.washington.edu
Sent: Wednesday, February 20, 2008 3:17 PM
Subject: Re: [Tweeters] Salt for Deicing Highways is killing the birds inSteven's Pass

John and Tweeters,

Kelly McAllister, quoted in the article, is a "Tweeter", so I expect that he'll be giving us all an update as this problem gets addressed.


john dantoni <dantonijohn at yahoo.com> wrote:
I just read an article in the www.wenatcheeworld.com on-line 02/20/2008 newspaper that reported hundreds of mountain birds in the pass are being killed after ingesting salt and being hit by snow plows. Isn't there something we can do?
John D'Antoni
Seattle WA

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