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. g

    they hit a UFO with an invisibility cloak.........

    January 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
  2. d. dionne

    what about the dead fish? I'f i lived ther i would get the heck out


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

    With so many dieing at once, birds could be nesting in a smelter building and fume from smelter plant could of posined
    them, so when they went into flight, all the birds would be affected. Do you
    think we will really be told the truth? I must be wrong as I read the birds live in the marsh lands, .hope the find the cause.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:13 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Ray

    ...hmmm, they are trying to say fireworks may have killed 5,000 birds. Seems odd that I grew up around farms where shotguns were fired to try to scare birds out of the corn and all it did was make them fly off for a few moments only to return moments later with no impact. I live near a river, near cornfields, and I fired artillery shell fireworks from rocket tubes just before midnight on New Years eve right next to my koi pond ( watergardeningpond.blogspot.com )without a dead bird as a result ...at least if they are going to lie to us, they could use an argument that this dumb farm boy can believe.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  5. charles

    Im sorry but Rowe sound like a moron. " Its fireworks, sickness, or maybe weather related but its not unusual" if its not unusual she should be able to pinpoint it. i'll remember that next time 5'000 birds fall from the sky on new years

    January 3, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Michael

    Everyone is just talking about the birds, but I have yet to hear anyone comment on the thousands of fish that also showed up at the same time,,,,,wake up people

    January 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  7. myrtlemay

    Not to worry until the plagues of toads & locusts show up.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Char646

    The corpse-collectors are wearing full tyvek hazmat-like body suits with Gas Masks, the kind I used to wear when I was a hazardous waste collector. Sounds like they already know what it is, and it wasnt weather...

    January 3, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Bt7

    Has anyone ever seen the movie "The Core"? As it turns out magnetic fields can affect various species of birds and fish – what could have caused a change in the magnetic field though is a different issue...

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

      I own this movie and yes the thought had crossed my mind.

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

    This is eerily coincidental. Al Gore ordered 5000 blackbirds from my shop, and picked them up just last week. Hmm. Ah, well. I do hope they figure it out.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Robert

    WHY can they not perform an autopsy on the birds? If people die for no reason they certainly find out and there is a good to know why the birds did this. If no autopsy then there is a cover up in my mind.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:17 pm | Report abuse |
  12. PMZ

    The spokesperson from Arkansas Game and Fish Department that thinks the dead birds in Arkansas were scared to death, is either an idiot or is covering something up. I live in an agricultural area. Nearby farmers use explosive noises from air guns to scare the birds from their crops. The birds do not die, they merely fly away. Massive bird killing by scaring them to death is ludicrous.

    The large number of birds dieing at the same time is probably caused by something they ate or drank. Some years ago there was a significant bird kill around the plant where I worked. I mentioned it to the plant manager and he told me the plant was using poisoned bird feed to kill the pigeons that were moving in and multiplying. Some wild birds ate the poisoned food source and that resulted in the dead blackbirds and starlings in the area. Intentionally or accidentally contaminated food source is the likely cause. If a food source was intentionally poisoned, it should not be too difficult to find manufacturer of the poison and whoever applied the poison needs to be found. If the food source was accidentally contaminated, a cover-up of a major proportion is probably already underway.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  13. fjdein

    Use the Wildlife Health Event Reporter to make additional reports of dead birds.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:18 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Name*UnionGirl

    What about the dead fish that were reportedly found in a nearby body of water floating on the surface????? Explain that!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Min

    Is it ok to tweet about this news story?

    January 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ray

      ...now that's good stuff!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Report abuse |
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