US Fish & Wildlife Service


Date of this Version



Published in The Prairie Naturalist 10 (1978) p. 43-48


In recent study of nonhunting mortality of wild waterfowl, Stout and Cornwell (1976) identified weather as one of the more significant causal agents. This paper describes an occurrence of spectacular avian mortality caused by a severe thunderstorm in North Dakota on 8 September 1977.

The storm was associated with a low pressure system in South Dakota. It developed about Noon CST north of Dickinson, traveled eastward and generally north of highway 1-94, and continued into Minnesota at about 5:00 p.m. CST. The system moved at about 60 mph (97 km/h) over a 300 mile (483 km) stretch of the state; the width of the more severe portion of the disturbance was about 10 miles (16 km). The calculated ground area within the severe portion of the storm was 3,000 square miles (7,770 km2).

This storm hit Chase Lake National Wildlife Refuge (NWR) with winds up to 90 mph (145 km/h) and with hail stones varying up to golf ball size (D. E. Stoltz, National Weather Service, Bismarck, N.D., pers. comm.).

On September 10, R. E. Sabinash, a rancher north of Chase Lake NWR, reported dead and crippled sandhill cranes in a field near the refuge boundary. On September 11, L. M. Kirsch, M. A. Johnson, and D. J. Johnson investigated this report and picked up 9 dead cranes and 4 cripples, which later died (L. M. Kirsch, pers comm.). In response to the Sabinash report, refuge managers J. R. Foster and R. A. Gilbert made a reconnaissance flight over parts of the storm area in eastern Kidder and western Stutsman counties where sandhill cranes and white pelirans are common at this time of year. They spotted more than 100 dead pelicans on Chase Lake NWR and about 40 on the Pipestem Reservoir near Jamestown; both areas apparently had been hit by the severe portion of the storm.