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Aflockalypse Now?

Good grief!  First we had the story of the 3000 – 5000 dead birds in a one mile area in Arkansas…and now we have another report of 500 birds dead on Louisiana.  What the heck could be going on?  Flockmaggedon??

Here’s my take:  I agree that the New Year’s Eve incident in Arkansas was probably the result of fireworks startling a sleeping flock and that birds either ran into each other or into houses and trees resulting in collision trauma.  The reports say that the collision injuries were in the front of the birds–as if they flew hard into something.  If the trauma was caused from their fall from the sky, then the necropsy would show the trauma on different sides of each bird, as each bird would fall and hit at different angles.  So, barring that the red-winged blackbirds, grackles, cowbirds and starlings flew into an invisible alien spaceship, I think the fireworks theory is plausible.

Let’s take a look at some images of blackbird flocks.  I went into Google and searched for “blackbird flock” and “starling flock.” They’re flocks can look similar:

I did not take any of these photos.  These are all flocks of blackbirds.  This gives you an idea of what those roosting flocks can look like.  If you’ve never seen a winter roost starling flock or a blackbird flock, it is a strange presence in the sky.  It reminds me a bit of the eeriness of an Aurora Borealis. Here’s another flock photo:

Again, I did not take this photo, but I found via Google Image Search.  Look at how tightly packed those birds are.  That is a group out during the day, in the wide open.  They can move and swirl and function more as a whole without flying into each other in the daylight.  At night, in a full blown panic, that many birds will run into each other.  If they were roosting, they were probably low to the ground to begin with.  If fireworks were going off overhead, they sure as heck would not fly up, they would try to fly below it.  In the dark and in a panic, they’d run into each other, trees, poles and buildings.

Now, here is a photo of the dead blackbirds in Louisiana:

This photo is from The Advocate.  Keep in mind how tight those blackbird flights can be.  Now, note the blurred vehicles in the above photo.  See the bus?  I wonder if semis also come down this road.  I think a flock of blackbirds flew hard into a large vehicle and died.  It’s happened before.  I remember reading about a case in the 1990s.  It doesn’t even have to have happened at night.  It could have happened at dawn or dusk.  The startling factor for the blackbirds may not have been fireworks, but a Cooper’s hawk.  This probably would have gone unreported had it not been for the Arkansas story.

Mysterious things happen to large flocks of birds,they don’t get quite the media play as this story did.  Here’s a story you may have missed about several hundred turkey vultures found floating just off the Florida coast near the Keys from last November.  It’s sad that we lost a lot of blackbirds.  Is it cause for concern and should we try to find out the reason?  Yes!  Should we panic for the coming apocalypse? No.

And I end this with a starling flock video:  crazy stuff:

YouTube Preview Image

Last night on Facebook people were posting vague links other possible die offs, but I could find no news organizations reporting on them.

27 comments to Aflockalypse Now?

  • Kirk Cameron believes it has to do with pagan gods being displeased with us: http://www.mamapop.com/2011/01/kirk-cameron-on-cnn-to-explain-dead-birds.html (at 2:02).

  • I just threw up a little in my mouth.

  • Sharon On New Years Eve 2000 Belfast City (Northern Ireland) put on a firework display using the bridge under which 1/2 million Starlings roost to launch the rockets/fireworks. The birds all flew out and were flying into people and buildings and windows it was dreadful. When I left with my young children there were hundreds of birds dead or dying. Yet surprisingly no news coverage at all probably due to fact that it was a new millenium and people had other things on their mind.
    So would be quite sure that this is what happened in Arkansas.

    I have also seen flocking starling being attacked by a pair of peregrines and they just fly anywhere to escape so your comment re louisiana seems the right explanation.

    WPOTY photographer Manuel Presti won it one year with this image http://www.photogalaxy.com/photo/manuel_presti/1/

  • david james

    good common sense reporting Sharon. great post! thanks alot.

  • Thank you! I read about these events, and kind of paniced, fled in here hoping that you were the one who would be able to provide an explanation to these events, and right I was.

  • JGo

    That video is mesmerizing! Thanks.

  • what I don’t get about this whole ‘fireworks’ explanation is, why don’t we hear about such birdkills every July 4th when fireworks are used in spots all across the land? Do blackbirds gather in MUCH bigger communal roosts in winter than in summer, or is there something special about this particular AR. location, or is there still something further that hasn’t come out yet??? ’tis all very odd….

  • anne

    If this was trauma from fireworks, then did the city have a big enough fireworks show that night to support this theory? Or did was it just a family backyard show? It would seem to me that if it were just a freak noise that brought down so many birds, then we would see more flocks brought down by the sound a jet makes when it passes through the noise barrier, or a thunder storm,,,,,,,,,,,Why have I never heard about flocks of birds falling from the sky before now

  • Great blog and a extremely interesting post. You would be invited to contribute to World Bird Wednesday. Check it out at http://pineriverreview.blogspot.com/

  • Thank you Sharon.
    I have had a half dozen exchanges with folks today, trying to tamp down the wild conspiracy theories about this. I seems to me that what has happened is the first significant bird fall, since the serious advent of social media, leading to lots of buzz, meaning the news services are doing a lot about it, as the public is interested, meaning better ratings, web hits, etc.

    Essentially, it is a Facebook phenomenon. I mean, this is certainly a big event, and a few years ago, would have been interesting to us….well…bird geeks, but really, it is what it is. Thank you for being a voice of reason in all this. I am off to post a link to this entry.

  • Jacci

    I agree with you Cyberthrush and Anne. The fireworks idea does not sound plausable at all….

  • Thanks for the link on the Turkey Vultures. I hadn’t been able to find any articles with a resonable explanation.

  • What?! No space aliens, supernatural events or government conspiracy and cover up? You’ll never make it onto the National Inquirer editorial staff with sane, level-head reports like this. This Arkansan say, “Thanks for the reality check and putting this event into context.”

  • Jacci

    And this afternoon I see a report of birds in Sweden, Jackdaws, have a few that have fallen dead from ‘the skies’. Seems like it’s OK now to report the phenom. Weird.

  • Amazing video! The swarm behaving as a single organism – recalls to my mind the fantastic scifi book “The Swarm” by a German author.

  • WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOW, great video!

  • Orlando

    That’s a nice insight….but…didi you see the news of the dead crabs? and all in this year and worldwide? I’m not saying is the end of days…just take the facts… here’s the link…

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1344345/Animal-death-mystery-Jackdaws-Sweden-fish-Brazil-New-Zealand-crabs-England.html?ito=feeds-newsxml

  • mongrel

    That video is absolutely amazing. Thank you for posting. And for being a voice of reason and debunking the panicky “end times” crap.

  • @cyberthrush

    Birds are not in the same flocking pattern in summer (it’s the breeding season, hormones will not allow male red-winged blackbirds to be in such close proximity). I’m sure there are birds and bats that get killed on July 4th but not to the same degree.

    @anne I notice that they have been very guarded about who was setting of the fireworks and in some cases even saying it was fireworks. In some instances, they just say “loud noise.” Either the city does not want to say anything and avoid any potential lawsuits or someone was setting off illegal fireworks (which happens a lot at New Year’s and 4th of July).

    @lynne I can never blog about a vulture without thinking of you at some point ;)

    @jacci the flock of jackdaws (a European version of an American crow) that are dead also appear to have injuries consistent with collisions and they are near a road with powerlines. Could be the same thing.

  • Yes. And again, these happen all the time, this is nothing new. Because of the media attention that happened to the birds on New Year’s Eve, the media is picking every mass animal death out there.

    I’d like to think that this will gain momentum and we’ll change some of the ways we interact with birds, but as soon as some random video goes viral or some politician is caught in an affair or actress has naked cell phone photos released, it will all be as forgotten as Double Rainbow Guy.

  • Ed Bird

    With the millions of birds lost to vehicles and window strikes every year, these incidents were a drop in the bucket. Too bad the media doesn’t do a better job of reporting everyday losses of wildlife. Likely more birds were lost in one day to U.S. traffic than these two incidents.

  • my friends and loved ones go out of their way to NOT tell me about things like Aflockalypse irrationalfearof2012

  • Daniel Pineiro

    Hi !!! everyone , this is crazy and odd I wonder what type of experiment they where trying to make and what bullshit story the media and or the state departments are gonna use to cover this up hahahah cause birds just don’t drop out of the sky like that …

  • JDTK

    I hope someone finds this worthwhile.

    I wrote it in response to someone saying that mass animal deaths occur all the time.

    I researched how often this happens as well. Most websites say 163 cases a year or 90 in *8, EIGHT* months…. not 6. Christ, articles keep changing numbers. Aside from that break it down. 90 in eight months is 11.25 reports a month, we’ve had 30+ in two weeks let alone 10+ in the US in two weeks. 163 a year… okay so 163 divided by 12 is 13.58. so 13-14 a month. we’ve had 30+ in two weeks. They said that 90 is under calculated so double that number 180 a year. that’s 15 in a month…. Soooooo my conclusion is that it’s not adding up. even 90 in six months is 15 a month.

    Also, fireworks startling birds seems so unreal, I’ve never heard of reports about mass bird deaths because of fireworks. People said that it was one bird leading a flock. They have poor night sight and were startled. if startled They fly off randomly and how could they see the lead bird?. Ever see a crow cannon? They do NOT fly off in flocks.

    Several reports have stated that the reason 90 is so low is because they happen in underpopulated areas or out in the middle of nowhere. A lot of these reports are coming in from populated towns and roadways which would make these events uncommon. So how many do you think we’re missing in other areas of the world? Are the 30+ reported under calculated as well? out of the ones reported in the U.S. there where 15 as of the 5th of January ranging from one occurrence of 80 bats to 2 million fish and anywhere in between

    We’ve had mass media for years now. Youtube was created in 05, chat rooms and IRC came about in the early 90 with it getting popular in the next few years, Social networking sites in the mid to late 90′s with Myspace in 02, Facebook in 04, and the Internet itself was used since the 60′s becoming commercially available in 1992 with a service provider called Delphi. It was however being used before this

    maybe it’s not the end of the world, a government plot, or HAARP, or aliens. Denying something odd is ignorant of facts.

  • JDTK

    Here is also a list on the USGS.gov website of their animal listings.

    http://www.nwhc.usgs.gov/publications/quarterly_reports/2008_qtr_4.jsp

    2010
    44 reports in the first 3 months
    22 reports in second 3 months

    2009
    52 reports in the first 3 months – some deaths as low as 4 dead beavers, 8 dead mallards, 3 bats
    33 reports in second 3 months- some deaths as low as 4 frogs, 4 bog turtles, 5 common grackle
    52 reports in third 3 months- some as low as 7 morning dove & unidentified sparrow, 6 american crow
    23 reports in final 3 months – some as low as 7 tree duck, 4 black-backed gull & herring gull, 8 canada goose

    2008
    58 reports in first 3 months – 5 american crow, 11 fish crow, 5 lesser snow goose, 6 mallards
    44 reports in second 3 months – 7 barn swallow, 8 californian red-legged frog, 11 pine skin
    59 reports in third 3 months – 10 little brown bat, 5 american white pelican, 6 morning dove
    33 reports in final 3 months – 12 bull frog, 15 mallard & american widgen, 12 canada goose

    On top of the low numbers for some of them there a number of reports in unpopulated areas or wildelife preserves.

  • Lois

    Hi Sharon,
    Happy New Year! The video of the flock of birds is amazing! It looks like they are flying (dancing) in celebration. Thanks for sharing.
    Lois