Stormy weather may have confused the birds, and thousands died upon impact in the parking lot and other areas in Southern Utah, The Associated Press reported. Officials began collecting survivors on Tuesday. By Tuesday evening, they had rescued more than 2,000 of the grebes, a duck-like aquatic bird, The Spectrum Newspaper reported. The surviving birds were released in unfrozen bodies of water in the county.
Though migratory birds mistaking land for water isn't uncommon, this downing was larger than usual.
"I've been here 15 years and this was the worst downing I've seen," Teresa Griffin, the wildlife program manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resource's southern region, said. "They're just everywhere."
The rescue is ongoing, and wildlife officials urged residents who found surviving birds to call their offices or bring them in.
"I have never in my life encountered such a thing," Cedar City resident and wildlife enthusiast Stephen Gwin, who was helping with the clean-up and rescue of the grebes, told The Spectrum. "I've heard of fish die-offs and other strange natural phenomenon, but I've never experienced one before. It was very strange, but very fun."