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. Planetary Nonsense

    I think it was aliens ... after all V starts again Tuesday night on ABC; 9/8C

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

    Same thing happened in Austin, TX a few years ago. They blamed the weather then, too.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      It's a cover-up. If the government is on control of the media and knowledge (i.e. what they want us to know), then it is in our best interest to not know the truth, which means that al Queda is poisoning the water supply with ricin and we're all gonna die.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Sidewinder

    Those workers have to wear those suits as a precaution.
    I've seen one of those guys called in by CBP just to retrieve marijuana out of the inside of a truck with a tanker on the back.

    As credible as all the conspiracy theories sound, I think I'll wait to shape my final opinion based on the scientific facts.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
  4. ME


    January 3, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      if the end is near, then we should all get together one last time and go out with a bang if you know what I mean(?)

      January 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Sam

    Okay people you don't have to guess what happened any longer because I have the answer. The fish and the birds are migratory species and when they realized that they were in the south, they committed mass suicide because they could not live with idea that they would have to winter in republican territory!

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

    Why can't these wildlife experts just admit they don't know, there were no professional fireworks displays in the area, why doesn't this happen every year, why don't birds fall out of the sky when there's a sonic boom, or a gunshot etc. etc.

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


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

    mostly one type of bird = probably not weather-related, firework/trauma-caused, otherwise should be roughly distributed across multiple bird species
    only 5000 birds in a small Arkansas town = probably not God sending us a dooms day warning
    just before midnight, new years = CNN story, lots of attention, etc

    my guess: prank by some wacko(s) with enough know-how to target the birds and wanting to cause a scene

    January 3, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Wr

    It was the fireworks. Look at Chinese history. The killed off all of their sparrows that way during the cultural revolution/great leap forward. It stresses them out and scares them from landing. Soon their hearts give out.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. L

    The fish were killed by disease, at least that's what the preliminary reports are saying.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Sahari

    Who here can envision a world without money, where everything is given from heart and with love, with no expectation for return for all needs are met as needs be. Where time is a concept fallen away, and only choices are of how and where to share your spirit, how and where to grow your spirit - for benefit of All.

    The times upon us are parting the ways and everyone will choose their own. What you believe IS what you will get, as it is even now. Those who point to war and call me Liar because they believe in peace, I say to you: if your heart were TRULY peaceful, so would be your life, and though a war raged outside your door, it could not touch you.

    We are all being asked to choose. Look not to your neighbors, your friends, your family, for their choices are their own. So look long, look deep and look hard to find what you truly believe, and what you are willing to stand for, and such WILL be delivered.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • Beamer

      Truer words never spoken.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  12. da13ca23

    Reply to Freddy Phelps I have seen a lot of theories, comments and advice but you are a real nutcase. Why don't you go back to holding your "end of the world sign" and give the rest of us a break!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jacknyd

    Natural or man made gas's could be the culprit. There would be no way to find that evidence in a gas cloud since it would have moved on and dissipated by the time anyone came to monitor it or do some other test. We do know one thing for sure, 5000 birds are dead and they all didn't have a coronary at the same time.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  14. SomethingsAMiss

    Funny. A lightening strike or hail kills only 5,000 of one bird species. Interesting. Then, one species of fish. This looks like a cover up. Something more serious is going on here. Could this be a test of DNA warefare? Can mankind now OFF particular DNA sequences? Looks like it. This was a demonstration. That is my opinion.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
  15. drawer

    Wrong reply so here I go again!

    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 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
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