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. Dan

    Those damned muslims are practicing their poisons on large herds of animals.
    They put ricin in the water. The guvnment told us they was gonna do this. Damned muslims, I'm goin to get my gun.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  2. wise one

    why are we wasting time on all of the analysis? clearly chuck norris is behind this.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      That's only if Chuck Norris has secretly joined al Queda.
      Then it sounds much more plausible.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ken Bader

    My guess is that a gaseous release from the bottom of the river bubbled up through a school of Drum fish and then ended up in the air where the black birds were flying. It's been a really long time since Arkansas saw any geologic volcanic activity, but the earth is changing so fast, you never know what we will see next.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. My thoughts

    AR has had at least 14 mini Earthquakes in the last week, perhaps the Birds and fish were affected by them. Most of the Earthquakes were not far from Little Rock, this area is on a hazardous fault line.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Dan

    C'mon, everyone is clearly overlooking the obvious.
    The birds all committed mass suicide during the New Year event in protest against bird racism.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:31 pm | Report abuse |
  6. morris wise

    Only the bottom feeding Drum Fish were affected. This could be a newly invented poison that is fatal to all bottom feeders in the food chain, including humans.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Alex

    There can be no other reason why.
    You know we should have seen it coming.
    Consequences we cannot deny will be revealed in time.
    Glaciers melt as we pollute the sky.
    A sign of devastation coming.
    We don’t need another way to die.
    Can we repent in time?

    The Time bomb is ticking and no one is listening.
    Our future is fading.
    Is there any hope we’ll survive?
    (c) Disturbed – Another Way To Die

    January 3, 2011 at 12:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      you missed the Hale Bopp commet back in 98, didn't you?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trent

      Disturbd is right, this is definitely a global-warming related issue. It probably got really really hot all of the sudden at night and burned these poor birdies. If you can't tell, I'm being sarcastic.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Jaeger

    What about a small scale and short lived release of a toxic plume, similar to the Lake Nyos CO2 release? Except this time in a more rural area.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole D.

      That's what I was thinking. I like some of the other suggestions, and trauma and weather definitely fits better than poisoning or mass disease. From what one of the eyewitnesses posted earlier, about the lame leg and confusion, I wonder if the earthquakes could have caused a kind of methane burp or something. I'm not a scientist, and I haven't researched, but I think this option could hold water; a short burst of gas that hit a flock of birds that were already disturbed from the vibrations in the air from fireworks and the inevitable live rounds being fired off around midnight could have dropped them, and those that didn't die immediately definitely would have been psychologically affected, and if you know anything at all about small creatures, you know how fragile their hearts are when it comes to shock.
      That could have caused the ones on the ground to fly into bushes out of panic, or they simply could have been neurologically affected by the gas.
      Sorry if there are some misspellings in here, I'm on my phone.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:47 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Dan

    I think the new conservative talk radio frequency that the birds picked up committed mass suicide at the same time once they had enough.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:40 pm | Report abuse |
  10. bird one

    As someone who has worked with birds professionally for a long time, this isn't that shocking or mysterious. Red-winged Blackbirds are diurnal (active during the day), and they are migratory. This migratory flock, which can number easily in the thousands, descended to this area to roost for the evening. Something startled them from their sleep (maybe fireworks, gunshot, even owls which can prey on them while they sleep etc..) which caused them to take flight into the darkness, they are stressed by migration, loud abrupt noise, and being disoriented flying around in the dark in an unfamiliar habitat. All these combined can easily over stress a high-stress species and lead to shock and instant death.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      What's up with Arkansas? Birds are dyin, fish are dyin...
      whay can't conservatives follow along?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luka

      and what about the fishes?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Scott

    Maybe the birds realized they were in Arkansas and committed suicide.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Ken

    Upon further investigation Arkansas had a magnitude 2 earthquake Jan 3rd, 2011 at 00:28:13 AM. 40 Miles north of Little Rock. A release of toxic gasses from the earth are most likely the cause for both the fish and bird kills.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Trent

    Aliens!

    January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
  14. TheBirds

    I don't buy the weather or fireworks theory. Starlings and Red wing black birds fly together in large numbers which means they all could have eaten the same thing. If they consumed something that made them die perhaps this same "poison" got in the water that killed the fish? But if this was the case it wouldn't make sense because other fish would have been affected. It seems the birds and fish might not be related, just a coincidence???

    January 3, 2011 at 12:42 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      This is so simple it is obvious.
      We need a CDC team in there testing the water for toxins and contaminants.
      Terrorists put ricin in the water supply.

      damned Mohammed jihads.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Luka

      this is the same thing that i am asking.. it does not make sence for me

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

    I dunno why I read this stuff, it scares the s*** out of me. It sounds like Doomsday..... : (

    January 3, 2011 at 12:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      that's right – it is doomsday. The bible was written to record events, and history will always always repeat itself.
      History serves as a model to follow;)

      January 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
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