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. somuchfor

    Two days ago it was only 1000 birds. When did it suddenly become 5000 birds? CHECK YOUR FACTS!

    January 3, 2011 at 10:58 am | Report abuse |
    • pat

      when they finished counting.... duh

      January 3, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      @Lucifer, love it. love it.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • Merle Freeman

      1000 was an estimate – as even the 5000 is at this time, and really do you think this would be an exact number...

      January 3, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Todd

      Actually, there were 10,000 birds dead, but half of them fell near several nearby McD's. On a related note, the new McBlackbird Nuggets are on the menu in Arkansas.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Adams

      @Lucifer: I get the joke. Just for the conformity though, the 5th seal of the Apocalypse is actually:

      "When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those slaughtered because of God's word and the testimony they had." (Revelation 6:9)

      What is funny about the "fifth" is that the people who believed in god complain actually to god about the fact that he let them die defending their devotion to him. They ask for, well, what else a religious man could ask for other than avenge:

      "O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?" (Revelation 6:10)

      January 3, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Because they were still falling the next morning.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • Murtle

      Whatever killed the 100,000 drum in the ARkansas river in Ozark the day before killed the crows. Living here, just across the river from Ozark, is kinda scary. Evidently, there is something out there. And no, I don't think Obama had anything to do with this according to my sources.

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

      This is simple.. There have been rare strange earthquakes lately very close by in this state... Methane pockets from hydrocarbons around the faults leaked Methane that killed the fish, and then floated over and killed the birds.. It didn't have to be in one spot either.. It could be leaking up in several different locations at once.. I blame fracking for gas deposits.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • boomboom

      We're all forgetting that this even occurred over Arkansas. Clearly it was boredom that took out the birds.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Wewanthetruth

      Anyone think that HAARP could be the culprit? http://www.examiner.com/us-intelligence-in-national/haarp-secret-weapon-for-weather-modification-electromagnetic-warfare

      January 3, 2011 at 12:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dave

      It could only be one of two things, an emission or a resonance cascade.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      haha,i love how fireworks is ruled in of the possible deaths of 5000 birds with no injuries but either unintentional or intentional poisoning is ruled out lol...and this my friends is how the news,and the government have been deluding you for many many years.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Fred

      Terrorist bio-weapon attack? Has anyone considered this? The birds (and maybe the dead fish found in the Arkansas river 125 miles away) could be infected with a weaponized strain of some virus or bacteria. The birds could have been dropped from the sky, perhaps using a bomb that exploded at a certain height, and the fish could have been released into the river by a boat. I think it's unlikely because this area is not what terrorists would probably prioritize as a target, but it's possible. The idea, I think, would be that the disease gets into the ecosystem once the bodies of the birds and fish are eaten by other animals.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jason B.

      @Diane – Wouldn't be released gas. That would've killed all fish and all birds. Not just 2 species.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
    • Diane

      It was more than just one species of bird that was affected. Read the local news reports from the eye witnesses.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • Patrick

      That just go to show how reporters and news people blow reasonable facts way out of porportation.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • d

      we should ask Bp about chemicals sprayed and methane clouds, scared birds about 100 maybe not 5000 any air chemicals being sprayed still.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • dcase

      This is the best explanation I've seen so far. Scientifically based and it makes sense. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oHg5SJYRHA0

      January 3, 2011 at 4:19 pm | Report abuse |
  2. A CNN Reader

    It was part of an ill-conceived plan by the American Acclimatization Society to fill America with all the birds mentioned in Shakespeare's works. Now, the USDA is acknowledging making a few mistakes of its own by not more fully warning people around a Princeton Township farm, where it applied a pesticide on Friday to kill 3,000 to 5,000 starlings that have been plaguing a livestock farmer.

    "It was raining dead birds," said Franklin Township Mayor Brian Levine, explaining how people watched starlings drop throughout the Griggstown section of his town, which borders Princeton Township in Mercer County.
    "People were concerned. They were wondering why there were so many dead birds lying around," he said.
    Everything from Avian influenza to West Nile disease, both bird-killing ailments that also affect humans, was feared. But no humans or pets were ever at risk, said the USDA, contending the pesticide, known as DRC-1339, is inert once it is eaten by the birds and becomes metabolized.
    That part of the story is only now reaching residents in Somerset County's Franklin Township, where officials continued efforts today to help citizens find ways to dispose of the bird corpses filling up their lawns.
    "Unfortunately, this was also done on a Friday, so the birds died on the weekend when no one was around to respond to calls. I can just imagine it would have been very disconcerting for people to find the birds dead," said Carol Bannerman, a USDA spokeswoman.
    State agriculture and wildlife officials were notified two weeks ago, along with Somerset County officials. But Ken Daly, Franklin Township's administrator, said the township was told too little, too late.
    "The only notice we got in the municipal building was on Friday, a second-hand phone call from our county health director that somewhere, sometime the USDA would be culling birds. No one knew what that meant. If we had known it was coming, we could have gotten word out to the residents," he said.

    The pesticide was applied by the USDA on bait piles at the farm, and federal authorities said there was one other miscalculation

    From http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rp1d2VNG8Nc

    January 3, 2011 at 10:59 am | Report abuse |
    • A hoax?

      Who is to say the you tube post is correct? Anyone can post anything they want to on there, doesn't make it true.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • A CNN Reader

      I think its the GUYS FROM THE TOWN telling what happened that tends to make it believable... besides.. its on the World Wide Waste so it has to be true....

      January 3, 2011 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • What is the truth

      Hi that response u got from youtube was a response used in 2009>


      January 3, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Actually that wouldn't surprise me,because a game warden said drum fish weren't game fish there and not normally eaten. Blackbirds are figured to be pests by many,also.So what nut or group of nuts would decide to poison birds and fish and not believe poison could affect people or the water they drink.Those birds fell in people's yards where kids play and the fish where people eat fish from that water,also.If it's true,they're idiots and have endangered thousands of people. Many of the birds that fell still alive are sick.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      That was referring to events in New Jersey more than a year ago, not Arkansas just days ago.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Linda

      I'm a federally permitted migratory bird specialist. I saw both starlings and other bird species in the video clip. My first thought was poisoning due to the concentrated location of corpses. There are many predation efforts aimed at reducing the numbers of invasive species like starlings and cowbirds and I think that the red winged blackbirds were an unfortunate casualty. Trapping is a much better solution for what is a real problem. Some invasive species kill our native birds or are "parasitic", destroying the eggs in a nest, laying their eggs on top for the unsuspecting native bird to raise.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      Autopsies show they did not die of poisoning; they died of blunt trauma to internal organs, suffered in the air, before hitting the ground.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Alex

    This is the prequel to "Angry Birds"

    January 3, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • Trent

      Ha! Awesome

      January 3, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
    • David Azofeifa

      HAHAHAHAHA!!!! Hilarious!!! The green pigs are to blame!!!

      January 3, 2011 at 11:19 am | Report abuse |
  4. A CNN Reader

    Really sad when Youtube has the answer and shows that someone (Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission) doesnt know whats going on or is lying......

    January 3, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
    • ?

      Who's to say that the you tube post is correct? Anyone can put anything they want on there. Doesn't make it true,

      January 3, 2011 at 11:04 am | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      lol ? Its because its literally a environmental scientist when are we going to stop blaming conspiracy theories,if it was true that its all a conspiracy theory,that would mean hundreds if not thousands of,nasa astronauts,airforce pilots,weather patterns,polar bears mating with grizzly bears,climate change,scientists,and all of the people who understand the way this world is being manipulated.It would mean everyone is in on it. Its the same way you believe when president barrack obama comes on the news and lies to your faces to get into office. Either way someone is lieing,wether its the government or "the people" . Its certainly not the people.

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

    They had too much eggnog to drink over the holidays.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:01 am | Report abuse |
  6. Rocky

    I hope CNN posts this news after the necropsy report and lets us know what really happened.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:02 am | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      rocky its sad to say, but they will never release the real reports. Hold me to my word. They will either say they havent found any information occurding to tests,and will have no choice to blame it on fireworks? due to distress? Or weather stress, basically anything that someone with the iq of the american population would accept

      January 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Interesting

    Anybody seen Flash Forward????

    January 3, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Nope

      I haven't. A new movie?

      January 3, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • Stark

      Ha, Flash Forward. I was thinking the same thing.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:13 am | Report abuse |
    • MCNC

      YES!! That's exactly what I thought of when I saw this. Crazy!

      January 3, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • RyantheNome

      FlashForward was the first thing I thought about!

      January 3, 2011 at 12:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • George B

      Yes – it's interesting to see that Flash Forward drew from (likely) natural occurrences to use as eerie phenomena in the show...

      January 3, 2011 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • rellasmom

      The Same EXACT comment I made when I first saw this!!!

      January 3, 2011 at 1:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Margie B

      First thing I thought of ....weird

      January 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Interesting

      In Flash Forward there were these towers that were (strategically) located around the world that, when activated, would emit a signal/energy wave/ pulse etc etc and it would make whomever was in that radius have a "flash forward" glimpse into the future of a specific date. Anyway, "they" were doing an experiment with the system in Africa and around that site there were tons of birds that fell from the sky while flying.....

      January 3, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Luis

    This is very odd. Something is happening in this area as they found 2,000 fish dead on shore of an AK river within one day of this event. EPA should investiage the farming/agricultural industry in the area

    January 3, 2011 at 11:03 am | Report abuse |
    • Carter Sherline

      AR, not AK.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:07 am | Report abuse |
    • Well Now

      Carter, AK? Isn't that where Sarah Palin is from?

      January 3, 2011 at 11:29 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      It's 100,000 dead drum fish around Ozark,Arkansas and birds could have been flying from that area when it affected them where they fell a little over 100 miles away.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Murtle

      100,000 fish and 5,000 birds.........somebody screwed up somewhere. I'm starting to feel dizzy....maybe I need to pack up and leave the state. There is something wrong here..............

      January 3, 2011 at 12:18 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Carter Sherline

    Climate change, the same thing that killed the fish 120 miles away. Not from changing the climate so these animals could no longer live in the conditions but from the extreme weather swings.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:06 am | Report abuse |
    • lol


      January 3, 2011 at 11:09 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Global warming is a hoax to make men rich and it has and the ones spreading it are not only filthy rich,but use more energy than we'll ever use in thier mansions and airplanes and numerous big fancy cars.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • amy

      TrixieRose watches Fox News. She's super informed.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greg

      Amy doesn't watch Fox News, so she's never wrong about anything.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Dr trout

    This is pretty simple. The birds got caught in a strong thunderstorm updraft or in a strong downdraft, perhaps both. This happens every now and then.

    The clues are the bad weather (obviously) and that its so localized.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:11 am | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      There was a front that passed through that day, but it was gone several hours before this happened.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
    • Lewis

      They likely either hit a patch of freezing air, or it was a lightening strike.
      Bird brain stress? I don't think so.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • little 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 10:15 pm | Report abuse |
  11. biff


    January 3, 2011 at 11:12 am | Report abuse |
    • rofl

      no such thing.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:18 am | Report abuse |
  12. meee!

    I blame PETA

    January 3, 2011 at 11:17 am | Report abuse |
  13. Steve

    Combined with the Arkansas 'dead fish' issue, it either means THE END OF TIMES is upon us OR Ohio State is going to beat Arkansas in the Sugar Bowl tomorrow night.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
  14. Why Hideit

    It appears that someone was more than remiss in not informing us of the bird baiting as A CNN Reader has done. If this was known, and it should have been, why suppress this important story? Is it that political or don't the residents have the right to know! And what is the ultimate fallout in terms of contamination from the poisoning of the birds in relation to humans?

    January 3, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
    • Loki42

      Umm...Because that source is wrong, and from a years old report. But you keep believing anything you read on a comment board!

      January 3, 2011 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      exactly what I'm thinking since drum fish and blackbirds are seen as pests there,the birds could have flown from Ozark where the fish were found dead.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Greta

      Great Spin, Loko and Trixie! Great Spin! Close But No Cigar!

      January 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Scott

    Just cook them up and eat 'em, they are in Arkansas after all...

    January 3, 2011 at 11:21 am | Report abuse |
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