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. tisilto

    It is obviously God sending a new year's gift to all of us!!!! Repent while you can!!!! Soon it will be too late

    January 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
  2. worried

    this just dont sound right there is somethig bigger going on

    January 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Farmer Fred

    I am a farmer. If the birds landed in a field and ate tainted seed/grain, (or whatever else was in the field) this would explain it. It would also explain the fish dying from the same area (within flying distance) due to run-off from the same field.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:37 pm | Report abuse |
  4. dave

    Duh- didn't anyone ever watch ABC's Flash Forward? Oh, since it got cancelled, maybe not...

    January 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
  5. ProperVillain

    Alien invasion. Hasn't anyone seen "Signs"?

    January 3, 2011 at 2:40 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Me

    Farmer Fred: Finally a logical answer that should be investigated. Well done, and very rational!

    January 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Anchor Brewing

    It was probably an ammonia leak from a nearby industrial plant. We leaked ammonia for 30 seconds and it killed all the pet birds in the neighborhood.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:42 pm | Report abuse |
  8. sean

    We will only find out, or know what the media decides to tell us. If you really need to know, go get educated

    January 3, 2011 at 2:43 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Cindy

    The earthquake could possible explain it as Arkansas did have a 2.5 mag with a depth of 5.2 miles but I doubt it. Im thinking more on the lines of HAARP to me.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. justliketv

    this is just like that tv show FlashForward.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  11. abditive


    January 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Jess D.

    I have read everything from Nostradamus to fireworks, and everything in between. The same thing happened in Kennewick Wa. about 10 years ago, except it was starlings. The city had poisoned starlings in a nearby park, to control the population, and it ended up killing not only the birds, but animals and pets as well. I had 2 dogs that became ill and I know it was from the poisoned birds. My dogs had one in the back yard. Hey people, these birds that are poisoned, travel long distances after ingesting the poison. Next I will hear it was a weather balloon.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. sean

    We will only find out, or know what the media decides to tell us. If you really need to know, go get educated in biology, toxicology, meteorology, and any other -ology that would be of use in this case, and figure it out for yourself. Or believe what your told and go along with the rest of the heard, moo

    January 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  14. KS

    There were several small earthquakes in that area. One 2.3 today and about 5 of similar 2.3s on Dec 31st in the late afternoon. Animals and birds can sometimes sense earthquakes and it may cause them to act erratically.

    January 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
  15. sharon

    truus, i agree, HAARP

    January 3, 2011 at 2:47 pm | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28