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. Science 101

    "What made thousands of birds fall from the sky?"

    I think the word you're searching for here is "gravity".

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

      That's just a theory. Like evolution.

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

      Gravity is not a theory or just a good idea: it's the Law!

      January 3, 2011 at 7:11 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Border Guard

    These are all mexican birds with no papers trying a new way to sneak into the country illegally and get cushy jobs in pet stores. Where is the TSA when yuo need them?

    January 3, 2011 at 11:22 am | Report abuse |
  3. Sarah K

    I live in Austin and this same thing happened downtown a couple of years ago. They were black birds too. I don't remember if anyone ever figured out what happened but it's freaky nonetheless.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:23 am | Report abuse |
  4. IBeleive


    January 3, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
  5. Adam

    I think some of these assumptions are faulty. I was at a friends house who lives in this subdivision yesterday (approximately 36 hours after the birds were falling from the sky) and walked up on a female red winged black bird (the females actually don't have red wings). The bird went to fly off as birds usually do and flew straight into the side of a car, stumbled around then flew straight into the overhanging part of the house, before flying into a bush. Even when it flew into the bush it appeared to not be expecting the bush to be there. When it was on the ground there did appear to be something different with one of its legs, it resembled the gait some stroke victims have. It is possible that it was an injury, but it appeared more like a partial paralysis.

    Also, they make the assumption that is was only birds falling out of the sky, but when hundreds of birds are falling out of the sky, you probably wouldn't notice a bird fall off of a tree.

    The weather claims just do not make sense, giving that the local news station showed the nearest lightning strike within the time frame was 50 miles away, and the nearest thunderstorm was in Mississippi.

    Stress caused by fireworks? Maybe, but then birds would probably fall by the thousands all over the US on the 4th of July.

    They say since it was a single flock of birds, that it probably wasn't poisoning, but blackbirds tend to be very aggressive towards other birds when it comes to bird seed. I would not be surprised if they come to the conclusion that tainted birdseed was the cause.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:24 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Yep,that's what those blackbirds eat is seed,not fish and I wonder if since the drum fish feed off the bottom,could they have put the poison to whatever they eat from the bottom,like mollusks and they also eat insects,which blackbirds do,also.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      I honestly doubt that the birds and fish are connected. Both incidents happened in Arkansas, but in two geographically distinct regions. Just to the west of this subdivision (within 1 mile) is a heavily wooded area that is absolutely inundated with these red winged black birds. There are hundreds of thousands of them in this wooded area. The fish were in the Ozarks region. in the northwest corner of the state. The birds were more in the central part of the state. I know birds migrate, but any connection found between the birds and the fish is highly unlikely.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
  6. therm

    Heaven's Gate. They're on their way!

    January 3, 2011 at 11:25 am | Report abuse |
  7. bobbie66

    * I blame BP OIL! They ruined our environmental stability and contaminated the rainwater, too. Hand me the Pepto, eh?

    * – kw

    January 3, 2011 at 11:27 am | Report abuse |
  8. Nutjob

    I heard Jesse Ventura was in town doing a story about HARP 😉

    January 3, 2011 at 11:28 am | Report abuse |
  9. questioneverything

    Take a look at historically what has caused mass dying of birds in the sky. If all those are ruled out, then it has to be a new cause that didn't ever happen before, a new phenomenon in the sky, perhaps some chemical or electro-magnetic disturbance of some kind, that killed those birds while in flight. Whatever it was, it was either too sudden or too massive or both, as it didn't give time for so many of those birds to escape to avoid death. I might ask, did ANY of those birds survive whatever killed them. I'd check for that species of birds in the area and check the conditions of the surviving ones in the area, if any are alive.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:30 am | Report abuse |
    • Dana

      The video on MSNBC shows a distressed, but living, bird on the ground. Though the CNN report quotes someone saying the birds were not injured, the MSNBC report says otherwise. Also, the birds were NOT ALL red-winged blackbirds, as the video clearly shows starlings. However, it is not unusual for a few starlings to join a flock of blackbirds.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Starlings and female red wing black birds look very similar.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:29 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Damir

    It was probably home made fireworks, that had some excessive blast in the sky. Air pressure then stunned the birds, so they died when falling to the ground.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  11. Darlene Buckingham

    I hope there is going to be an investigation and CNN will follow up and let us know what killed these birds. What sickens and kills the birds harms us also. Peace to ALL.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  12. WestmontWriter

    The new healthcare law's Death Panels are kicking in?

    January 3, 2011 at 11:33 am | Report abuse |
  13. byron

    Some whoppers of excuses they are putting out. The storms they are talking about put down a tornado that killed 3 people, five minutes from my home. Those storms were well across the nation when this bird drip happened. Were they just so high up it took them hours and hours to hit the ground? This is one reason why they can even say it could have been fireworks. It was cold and clear by midnight. As for 'rural birds' not being accustomed to fireworks, they have apparently not seen how the locals shoot at starlings and black birds with frequent shotgun blasts.
    For those of you saying odd stuff is going on in my state, also remember that we've had over 500 earthquakes in that area since September. The fish kill is also up to over 100,000 fish of only one species.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Is the Arkansas Power Plant around Ozark nuclear?That's around where the drum fish died or is that in another area?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Name*loopy

    I think ozzy osborn is planning his next meal. Lmao!

    January 3, 2011 at 11:38 am | Report abuse |
  15. Buckshot

    I cannot help but wonder if the dead birds and fish result from hydrofracking, which is being done in Arkansas. The Halliburton loophole protects Mr Cheney's company from having to actually name the many poisonous chemicals used in the process (political protection). Once those chemicals are pumped into the Earth, there's no telling exactly where they will come out or what the exact outcomes will be.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:39 am | Report abuse |
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