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. Brian

    5000 birds.....hmmmm must have been 2500 people killing 2 birds with one stone at the same time and place

    January 3, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Tristan Pluta

    This sounds like the start to an apocalyptic movie, however i don't think this should be associated with such things like 2012.

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

    Why do the birds have to be black? I bet Al Sharpton jumps all over this.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Potter! Bring me pictures of Voldemort!

    The lead blackbird was stabbed in the heart by an enchanted toothpick or something and this caused the whole flock to die.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:47 pm | Report abuse |
  5. mdmh2

    What was the cause of death? If the birds have broken bones they probably flew into an invisible UFO hovering above the ground.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Cheshire Cat

    105,000 dead birds and fish...Kitty Galore strikes again.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:51 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ruben

    Hey, stop the bull! There is a perfectly reasonable explanation. They were homeless birds who froze to death!!

    January 3, 2011 at 3:53 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Cheshire Cat

    Arkansas McDonald's are offering free Filet o' Fish and Chicken McNuggets through Friday!

    January 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  9. hornman

    Hmmm.....someone must have been playing the HAARP again.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. The Cat

    A steady diet of blackbird is good for my shiny coat.
    I do have to cover my poop with my hands, though.

    January 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  11. trekkerfinch

    My God, you people!! These birds were flying over ARKANSAS, for God's sake!! What did you think was eventually going to happen to them?

    January 3, 2011 at 3:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Edward

    It's strange that this could happen and the immediate response is that it is not due to any poisoning, disease or air toxin. If you have been following this story about the "black birds" you would know that was the immediate response. And about 100 miles away, happening at the same time, an estimated 100,000 "black drum" fish washed up on the shore of the Arkansas river along a 20 mile stretch. The immediate response was that these two incidents are not related.

    Maybe they are releated.

    January 3, 2011 at 4:00 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Cheshire Cat

    Navy Seals have contained the Ozark Fish Terrorists, while Predator drones have destroyed all Beebe red-winged warbirds...the terrorist threat has been abated...Obama to address the nation from Hawaii shortly...

    January 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  14. babybornagain

    repent sinners for the end is nigh. these are early tell tale sighs that the world is about to end.Its written in verse 35 chapter nine that it will begin with birds, then the flies.

    January 3, 2011 at 4:01 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Papa Pete

    I bet Pixar is already working on a movie where a young blackbird loses his family and flock to to hailstorms and fireworks in a Saving Private Ryan-like scene and then has to find his way to a new flock with the help of a ragtag group of new friends consisting of a turtle, a goldfish, and, uh, a mosquito (romantic interest?). Take that to the bank.

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