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.

Weather-related

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.

Fireworks

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. je

    It's like in the movie "the core"

    January 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
  2. My money's on weather

    Something similar happened a few years ago at the campus where I work in Austin, TX. I wouldn't put the count at several thousand birds, but there were easily a few hundred dead black birds (we call them grackles) on the ground after a severe thunderstorm came through the area. Caused lots of damage to nearby homes too.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  3. JCH

    I knew those cats in Arkansas were working on the bomb!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:50 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Farmer Fred is right

    A tainted field is the correct answer, and the erosion from this field that has also poisoned the fish is where the authorities should concentrate their efforts. Too much pesticide or whatever this particular person did to this field is probably the right answer. Farmer Fred is probably right on target.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beamer

      Doesn't explain that singular species were affected.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Marie

    The end is nearing.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:56 pm | Report abuse |
    • Marie

      They can come up with all the excuses they want and try and find reasons why but read your bible and it will explain what is going on

      January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
  6. brianNH

    It's amazing to see the poor English writing skills of so many people.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • fofotavour

      What are you, English teacher?

      January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • WoToF

      Its easy to see how you capatilize in mid sentence! Glass houses my friend!

      January 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      heres the real explanation,by me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxzfsxDmQY

      January 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • S.Colbert

      English is always capatalized.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mr. Burns

      @WoToF – I sincerely hope your post was in jest.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:20 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rachael M

      Thanks WoToF, you made my day.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      Earthquake swarms in the last few weeks less than 100 miles from effected areas.. Hydrocarbon deposits and methane gas pockets do rupture occasionally.. Releasing Methane Gas into steams, rivers, lakes, ponds.. Killing geographically selective groups of fish. Deeper pockets travel to shallow pockets underground.. and release to kill off small groups of birds not to far from the original earthquake swarms. You will find that the fish and birds died from asphyxiation. Test ground water for methane, and local drinking water wells for methane percentage.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • KEVIN

      I think that an earthquake released a large amount of natural gas in a certain area where the flock happen to be. It suffocated them and then dissipated.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dennis

      "Its easy to see how you capatilize in mid sentence! Glass houses my friend!"

      Are you serious?

      Its = It's

      capatilize = capitalize

      "English" is supposed to be capitalized because it's... wait, why am I even bothering to correct you? Go read a book.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Only kidding

      The question Should of read.What are you?An English teacher?

      January 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janos

      Hopefully they are Starlings... They should of never been brought here anyway, all they do is cause damage and deaths of humans.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:30 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      It's impromper to use contractions and your use of "so" is a grammatical faux pas. But we aren't writing essays here...just posting on a message board-SO i dont kare.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Janice

      My guess is that the fish were already contaminated and made their way to the top of the river, dead or dying. The birds seeing an opportunity for food took a little nibble and then flew 125 miles and fell out of the sky. Why were only these fish contaminated? Survival of the fittest, perhaps. Only the Blackbirds died because "birds of a feather flock together" and they were the only ones around. Doubtful it's the end of the world. Just science...

      January 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxzfsxDmQY the reality of this situation

      January 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • pamela35601

      there was an earthquake in the area at that time....right before midnight 12/31

      http://earthquake.usgs.gov/earthquakes/recenteqsus/Quakes/nm123110c.php

      January 3, 2011 at 3:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      500 birds falling from the sky, slowly starts to creep away from top news on cnn lol.... by the end of the night we may even see it completly off of the top news, replaced by lindsay lohans release from rehab. , check out what the reality of what the situation here is and what cnn is acually doing to us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxzfsxDmQY

      January 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • HP

      Diane and Kevin you seem to be on the ball please look up the Lake Nykos in Cameroon this maybe exactly what may have cause the fish and and bird kill, the plume of gas could have been released by Earth tremors in Guy on 13th-17 December and with the recent cold snap causing the CO2 or methane to stay low near ground level to until the sun rises in which it would rise and dissipate. This is however not a very good sign as it may effect people & livestock the next time as it did in Africa

      January 3, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • China sucks

      The birds are made in China. They are not real birds but bird dolls made from real dead birds. The toy manufacturer fired them from a cannon and you have thousands of dead toy/birds made in China. This is what I have heard, at least.

      January 3, 2011 at 4:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      5000 birds falling from the sky and 100,000 fish not linked into the same article lol,i dont think the 100,000 fish is top news anymore, slowly starts to creep away from top news on cnn lol.... by the end of the night we may even see it completly off of the top news, replaced by lindsay lohans release from rehab. , check out what the reality of what the situation here is and what cnn is acually doing to us. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxzfsxDmQY

      January 3, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Christopher

      this is some illumimnati stuff

      January 3, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Report abuse |
  7. fofotavour

    A mass suicide?

    January 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jack

    If I were in Arkansas I would wish I were dead too. Makes perfect sense to me.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • 'T

      I am in Arkansas, now why must I die???

      January 3, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jake

      I know right but that stinks all of those birds dying man that sucks!

      January 3, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. John

    I blame obama.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • fofotavour

      Yap, you're right!

      January 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Yogismom58

      I blame George W. Bush.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Stone

      I blame Bill Clinton.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • T-Mac

      I blame Mariah Carey

      January 3, 2011 at 4:50 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Mary-Sue

    a short while ago, a week or two, there was very big northern lights to happen here, up north, Yukon, Canada... These were to be created because of sun flares hitting the earth hard.... it also plays with the magnetic field of the earth... Well, I personally am a strong believer in "pole switch", which changes the magnetism poles... I believe that some animals can get totaly messed up because of that... -So here is a thought... What if the earth's magnetic poles was in the process of flipping?! Could it not have a direct effect on a lot of species? I mean, I also remember the movie "The Core"... Makes sense to me... What you think?

    January 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • John Schwendler

      What you have described, sounds like a strong case of cabin fever, to me. Ever considered coming down to where civilization is, and living among us?

      January 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nyrved

      not to disrespect your theory, but referring to what happened in a movie does not make a valid point.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ryan

      If the magnetic poles did indeed flip it would cause a lot more noticeable problems, airlines would be grounded, cellphones may stop working (not sure on this one, but I've heard of it). There have been several geometric reversals in earth's history and the current magnetic field is weakening, which may indicate we are heading towards a flip. I don't think this caused the bird's to die, but I do agree that some animals may be affected by the earth's magnetic field.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • Travis

      The poles switching is totally possible and does happen, it happens quite frequently in geologic time. Scientists are saying the magnetic field is weakening and predict a switch relatively soon, although not in our life time, most scientists say at around 3000-4000 CE so at least another 1000 years. The last time it happened was about 650-850 thousand years ago. Also, the poles switching would be a much more significant event, not just a few thousand birds dying over Arkansas.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ash

      A pole reversal takes about 5,000 years from the time it begins. It doesn't just happen over night.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Jose

    This happened a few times in Africa I believe. It was the result of gases from minor tremors. More likely a earthquake is a coming or some unknown seismic activity.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • KS

      It could be. There were several small quakes near the area recently.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • An Arkansan

      We have had several 3.7 and smaller earthquakes here in Arkansas over the past several months. Some say it is due to the excessive drilling by the gas companies throughout the Fayetteville Shale areas. The gases possibly escaping from these earthquakes has not been mentioned as a possible reason for their deaths, but I guess it could be a possibility. Of course the gas companies could also be trying to keep that possibility quiet.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael J

      The New Madrid fault system does run into much of that area and it's predicted for about every 200 yrs to release. There have been over 500 recorded tremors in the region in the month of December alone. Multiple tremor, dead birds, dead fish, and there are signs of large amounts of methane in the air.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Joburg

    My pet Parakeet died on the same day do you think its related ? (Tho I think the cat next door had something to do with it my Parakeet was seen in his mouth) Do you think the cat next door had something to do with the birds in Arkansas. And I am sure he likes fish as well.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Michael

      ...

      January 3, 2011 at 3:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • somegirl

      Joburg, you are hilarious! I live here in Arkansas and grew up next to the little town of Beebe. Hmmm...my mom has a cat and she got out the other night...maybe both our cats are to blame! 🙂

      January 3, 2011 at 4:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • sginsd

      Best post so far!!!! 🙂

      January 3, 2011 at 4:28 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Six

    Don't these birds know it's not 2012 yet? I think they are just showing off. LOL

    January 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SAM

    From all the POISON the Jets are leaving in the air,Its NOT PASSIVE SMOKING PEOPLE

    January 3, 2011 at 3:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • CAt

      The first actual intelligent posting. Thank you. Government testing? What do you think?

      January 3, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Varan

    Clearly it was a FlashForward event.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • ohemgee

      You beat me to it! To bad ABC canceled the series, perhaps we would already have the answer!

      January 3, 2011 at 3:42 pm | Report abuse |
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