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. M

    Aliens. Definitely aliens. 🙂

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

    commie plot-blame bush-obama-palin-daffy duck-george clooney-foghorn leghorn-elmer fudd-bart simpson-elvis and johnny cash..

    January 3, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Only sheep need a shepherd

    King Arthur: The swallow may fly south with the sun or the house martin or the plover may seek warmer climes in winter, yet these are not strangers to our land?
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Are you suggesting coconuts migrate?
    King Arthur: Not at all. They could be carried.
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: What? A swallow carrying a coconut?
    King Arthur: It could grip it by the husk!
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: It's not a question of where he grips it! It's a simple question of weight ratios! A five ounce bird could not carry a one pound coconut.
    King Arthur: Well, it doesn't matter. Will you go and tell your master that Arthur from the Court of Camelot is here?
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Listen. In order to maintain air-speed velocity, a swallow needs to beat its wings forty-three times every second, right?
    King Arthur: Please!
    1st soldier with a keen interest in birds: Am I right?

    January 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Fred

    Duh...no one mentioned global warming, climate change, or the simple fact man is here on this planet creating chaos...

    January 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole D.

      They did actually. Fortunately it makes no sense. It wouldn't have been a localized event so small like this, it would have been a much larger region over a longer peiod.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:58 pm | Report abuse |
    • drawer

      If this is the sign of what's coming through, get ready for a wilder ride this year. Earth's gonna blow us apart and there's NO WAY OUT!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:23 pm | Report abuse |
  5. James

    5000 birds dead. What about the thousands of fish that have washed up around Clarksville? Not to mention the earthquake that had been shaken for the past three months in Arkansas, nor the strange tornado that hit on New Years? What is really going on in Arkansas? This looks like a cover-up to something bigger.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • da13ca23

      Probably the Clintons. Ha

      January 3, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • zensor

      A cover up by whom might I ask? Can the government now produce tornados and earthquakes on demand?

      January 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Seraphim0

      Zensor- Look up HAARP. It's every conspiracy theorist's wet dream.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • zensor

      Thanks, just looked up HAARP. I can't wait til Amazon.com sells them. I bet they make an awesome mango smoothie.

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

    .poison gases, aliens? .., food poison?... what happened?? 🙁

    January 3, 2011 at 1:55 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rick

    Only blackbirds and in missouri? I'm thinking it was racism that killed them.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. jj

    I don't think they can say this is a usual event, yes birds have fallen dead from the sky before but thats only 100's not thousands of them.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  9. dp

    Two words "Flash Forward"

    January 3, 2011 at 1:59 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Brad

    I think mass suicide. Palin's Alask had just aired.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • da13ca23

      I wondered how long it would take for someone to blame Palin or Bush!!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
  11. da13ca23

    5,000 birds??? How do you get that many birds in on small area. And is that a hazmat suit the guy is wearing. Thats just a little overkill, don't you think?

    January 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Andy

    Has to be aliens...

    January 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • cathy

      yep, that's what I thought too!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:05 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Klatu Berata Nicto

    There was a Tornado recently as well, in the same area. Funny nobody, nor the article mentions that. I would assume a Tornado would kill a few birds. It happens.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  14. cathy

    Seriously, do you really think we will learn the truth? Ha!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:03 pm | Report abuse |
  15. cjc

    i saw cnn this morning6am cst..fireworks?? really? cmon cnn needs anchors with an education..kiran sorry honey you are dumber than a box of rocks. it's obvious in this thread we are all skeptical of our gov't as well. strange days indeed!
    Lookup gov't testing in the USA people ...wake up now..try it ..it'd not that hard google it..you'll be surprised !
    peace all!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:08 pm | Report abuse |
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