The widespread deaths have prompted environmental activists to launch a campaign urging the public to remove the tubes upon sight. The U.S. Bureau of Land Management in Southern Nevada is also targeting the animal death traps, with plans to send crews to remove plastic tubes from claim-rich areas near Sandy Valley, Goodsprings, Searchlight, Pahrump and Mesquite.
Birds that like to nest in burrows and trees are attracted to the open tubes, but they can't climb or fly out of the tubes because of the slick interior, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. The dead birds include starlings, woodpeckers, kestrels, rock wrens, flycatches and Western screech owls. In northern Nevada, the state's mining epicenter, the tube markers often claim mountain bluebirds, Nevada's state bird.
The use of uncapped plastic pipes as claim markers has been illegal in Nevada since 1993, but that hasn't stopped the practice. A 2009 state law gave claim holders two years to remove the pipes, but thousands still remain. With the two-year period up, anyone can now remove the tubes used by one of the state's iconic industries.
Christy Klinger, a state biologist, said she led a work crew near Searchlight in 2009 that removed 195 markers and counted 740 dead birds, including 31 in one pipe. In all, the Department of Wildlife has removed at least 10,000 plastic posts and counted about 3,000 "mortalities" statewide, Klinger said.
"It's really awful," she said.
The Red Rock Audubon Society held a volunteer "pull-out event" Saturday near Pahrump to encourage its members to "pull, baby, pull." John Hiatt, conservation chairman for the bird lover's group, estimated that there could be up to a million plastic markers across the state. Claim holders traditionally use the PVC pipe as markers because it is cheap, lightweight and bright white, making it easy to spot, he said.
"Basically they're black holes for birds, literally and figuratively," Hiatt said. "Once they're inside, it's a one-way trip."
Hiatt recently removed a plastic pipe from a hillside along Interstate 15 near Sloan. He found inside the dried husk of a Say's Phoebe, a native Nevada species. In a different pipe, he found a bird skeleton with a few dusty feathers. Hiatt said he's pulled up more than 100 pipes from across Southern Nevada over the years and roughly half of them had dead birds inside.
In some cases, the pipes were mass graves.
"I've pulled them up and half a dozen birds have fallen out," Hiatt said.