A flock of ill-fated migrating cranes flew to their deaths in central Germany over the weekend, after a number of the birds became disoriented in thick fog and flew into buildings and cars.
The confusion took place in a forested area around the central German town of Seebach, where residents reported the cranes were flying unusually low. Some flew into buildings, while others landed on a country road out of apparent exhaustion, only to be run over by cars. It's possible they had been attracted to vehicle headlights.
At least 20 birds were discovered dead, with authorities reportedly finding four on one road alone.
But a number of other cranes survived their collisions with broken wings or legs, and were brought to the nearby Mühlhausen Veterinary Clinic. Four others were brought to the care center at the Seebach Bird Conservation Observatory, where Dr. Rudolf Sienhold described two of the avian patients as "emaciated."
"One of them looks like he's healing up quite nicely," he said. "The others may have to stay with us for a while."
The cranes were migrating from their winter habitats in France and Spain to their breeding grounds in Scandinavia and Eastern Europe. Sienhold said particularly severe rain, ice and fog all probably contributed to the birds losing their way. They may also have become disoriented after crossing over from a high-pressure system easy for flying to the wintery weather that has plagued central Germany in recent days.
The thick fog the cranes encountered is likely to have thrown off their internal navigation systems, sending them into disarray.
Sienhold said he had never seen anything on the scale of the weekend's bird chaos. However, the phenomenon of lost birds is not completely unknown to Germany. In November 2011, more than 55 cranes and 300 geese landed on a highway in the eastern state of Brandenburg and were run over by cars.