What made thousands of birds fall from the sky?
Officials estimated that 4,000 to 5,000 similar red-winged blackbirds fell out of the sky.
January 3rd, 2011
10:41 AM ET

What made thousands of birds fall from the sky?

It has become one of the strangest stories to come out of the New Year and one of the most puzzling for scientists and local officials: Just what caused 5,000 birds to fall from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve in Beebe, Arkansas?

As news of the story spread across the globe, so did speculation about what caused the Hitchcockian scene. And as officials wait for the official necropsy (animal autopsy) report, we're taking a look at some of the theories that officials and scientists have suggested.


Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, said the incident is not that unusual and is often caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail. This theory could hold in this case, she said, especially because a strong storm system moved through the state earlier Friday.

Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the commission, told Reuters that storm weather, including hail or lightning, could be the culprit, but so far, he had yet to see any sign of injury on birds that were collected.

Rowe told Live Science that events like this have happened across the globe, and generally, weather is to blame. She said birds have been swept up and moved when caught up in hurricanes, wind can force them into a large object like a cliff, or large groups of birds can clash and crash in heavy fog, killing them.


On CNN's "American Morning," Stephens told Kiran Chetry and Jim Acosta that in addition to weather, local New Year's Eve celebrations may be to blame.

"We're leaning towards maybe a stress event," he said.

Stephens said revelers, "possibly shooting some fireworks while the birds were roosting," could have scared them, causing trauma.

"That could have been what caused their deaths," he said.

But birds don't fall out of the sky whenever there are fireworks, so what makes this event different? Stephens said that in rural areas, birds can be more concentrated. And if fireworks were set off near them in a roosting area while they were sleeping, such a trauma could have killed them.

Poisoning or disease

Rowe said it wasn't likely that poisoning or another illness could be to blame.

“Since it only involved a flock of blackbirds and only involved them falling out of the sky it is unlikely they were poisoned, but a necropsy is the only way to determine if the birds died from trauma or toxin,” she said in a commission press release.

Officials have also said that because the situation was isolated, and because other groups of the birds in separate areas were not killed, they don't suspect the birds were poisoned.

For reasons similar to why they don't suspect poisoning, officials told Fox 16 in Arkansas that the bird deaths probably aren't related to any kind of disease.

Air toxins

Air tests by the Arkansas Department of Environmental Quality came back clean for any toxin, KTHV reports.

soundoff (728 Responses)
  1. Hasselhoff

    Don't give me that this happens all the time garbage. I think the earth is screwed. We are just making up excuses and ignoring it. Have fun.

    December 17, 2011 at 3:15 am | Report abuse |
  2. doris123

    Took a year for this to go public:


    January 8, 2012 at 8:24 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Smeannacicknfk

    pikavipit http://hastaneyonetim.com/fkero pikavipit

    January 10, 2012 at 8:30 am | Report abuse |
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    April 13, 2012 at 2:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. LogicalPlausibility

    Being Muslim do not make one a terrorists. Remember David Koresh, he calmed to be a Christian prophet sent by God, yet no one is ignorant enough to judge Christians from David Koresh's example (Christianity have spawned far more indignation then any other philosophy) . There are crazy ignorant fools hiding in all uneducated corners of every society, but America seems to have an overabundance ( SEARCH: A dicto simpliciter ;if you believe in a little self improvement).

    January 3, 2011 at 5:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Ryan

    No, we just have the internet..... Sometimes reading it makes me feel smarter, as you can see why.....

    January 3, 2011 at 5:54 pm | Report abuse |
  7. mhouston

    A dicto simpliciter??? Self improvement?? You're right that being Muslim doesn't make one a terrorist. I'm not
    Muslim, Christian, Jewish or Hindu so from my perspective all of those religions seem to "spawn indignation"
    from each other. It seems to me that Muslims are a wee bit more inclined to be "indignant" or offended than the
    others...Why is that? As for "ignorant fools", they're everywhere and in all religious faiths and they'll never be
    anything else no matter how much "self improvement" they try...All the Popes, Pastors, Mullas, Rabis, or Gurus
    in the world won't help them...Because they don't want it – fools enjoy their stupidity and they're proud of it.

    January 3, 2011 at 7:30 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Y


    January 19, 2011 at 7:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. mhouston

    Where do you think LogicalPlausibility is from, Ryan? I'm sure if we look hard enough we can find as many
    fools in his/her part of the world as there are in the U.S. Looks like his favorite fools would be followers of
    some religion other than Christianity. I suspect there is a lot of sand in his part of the planet...

    January 3, 2011 at 6:31 pm | Report abuse |
  10. little birdie

    ittle birdie

    You'll find that per the NPR article, the WI lab has not concluded its investigation. They are waiting for test results, most likely from the USDA biodefense lab in Ames. Several AR and LA birds were sent there. The WI lab thinks the case of the AR birds is different from any other mass blackbird deaths they have studied in the past 5 years. There are already parties ready to dispute their expected findings.


    There is an interesting post below.


    January 12, 2011 at 10:19 pm | Report abuse |
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