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.

Weather-related

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.

Fireworks

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. alicia**

    why r ppl so mean on this site? i love birds!

    January 3, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • mhouston

      It's not just here, alicia**...You should see 'em on other places. Ppl like Cheshire Cat and Mel Gibson are
      the worst and they're everywhere.

      January 3, 2011 at 6:58 pm | Report abuse |
  2. phil

    David Koresh was not a true Christian. If he were a follower of God, then he wouldn't believe taking lives is an acceptable thing to do. Muslims on the other hand do believe that killing othere or yourself.

    January 3, 2011 at 6:02 pm | Report abuse |
  3. phil

    is an acceptable, even encouraged thing to do.

    January 3, 2011 at 6:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Mel Gibson

    Didn't you see my movie, Signs, they hit an invisible flying causer.

    January 3, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Report abuse |
  5. OI

    They might have died from the same kind of poisonous fireworks that were recently found in Denmark. Neither USA or Russia signed the Stockholm Convention against usage of the dangerous chemical substances known as the Dirty Dozens. Why does USA hate good environments and love pollution??? Click the link below too see for yourself!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dirty_dozen_%28Stockholm_Convention%29

    January 3, 2011 at 7:12 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Rick

    I'm not sure I go along with the fireworks or hailstorm theory. In years past, there have been many reports of birds dropping from the sky, for no apparent reason. I wonder if any thought has gone into the possibility of natural gas or methane leaking to the surface. Seismic activity can cause methane to temporarily leak to the surface and then reseal with no trace after the event. Maybe someone should check to see if there was any activity in the area close to that event. Birds have a lower tolerance to gas than humans, and could be killed before we even notice. That is why miners take birds into the mines. Just food for thought.

    January 3, 2011 at 7:46 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rose in Beebe, AR

      Closest activity for earth quakes is about 45 miles away.

      January 3, 2011 at 7:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • BW

      You may be on to something there, Rick. I live 20 miles from where the birds fell out of the sky and bout 1 1/2 hr from where the fish died. They have been drilling for natural gas around here all over, quiet a bit of it as a matter of fact. They are everywhere. We have been having tremors and minor earthquakes ever since they started drilling. We have them just about everyday. Your idea is the most realistic I have heard since this happened. I hope you don't mind but I am going to copy your idea and share it with our local news. I won't post it as my own idea but I won't mention ur name either unless you want me to.

      January 3, 2011 at 9:23 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Rose in Beebe, AR

    This is a tragedy. Those black bird would fly over my house every night from their daytime feeding grounds that is on the farm behind my property to go to their roost over by the ASU Beebe Farm. To give you a magnitude of how big this flock was. They would start flying over around 4:45pm cst and it would take almost 45 mins before the flock was completely gone. Today at 4:45, there was maybe 200 hundred birds that flew over and they took only a few mins to fly over. These birds were only here in the Beebe area from Mid November until Mid April. This tells me that they were from the North. This all so means that come growing season somewhere north of here there will be more bugs due to there being less birds. I am very sad for the loss of such a large flock and what it could mean to the plants that are now in danger of being infested because there are not enough birds to eat the bugs. As for what caused their death, I saw some of the dead and dying birds, there was not any bugs on the dead birds even when they had been dead for hours. When picking them up with gloves, the feathers came out very easily... Such a tragedy..

    January 3, 2011 at 7:48 pm | Report abuse |
    • Rick

      No, that's fine. I am one that does not believe in coincidences. I was a little confused regarding the issue of the 100,000 of a particular species of fish being killed also. However, I did a little research, and found an article that showed certain species of fish have a lower tolerance to natural gas poisoning than others. I think the test was on flounder and sturgeon. The sturgeon survived, and the flounder died. That could be a reason the Drum died and others survived. Of course I am only speculating at this point, and am in no way a professional in this area. Just a concerned individual seeking the truth. Good luck, with getting the government to admit to seismic activity or natural gas could cause the problem.

      January 4, 2011 at 8:15 am | Report abuse |
  8. cat man

    they said this happened just before midnight,i thought all birds went to roost at night

    January 3, 2011 at 7:53 pm | Report abuse |
  9. cat man

    dont all birds roost at night?

    January 3, 2011 at 7:57 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Teri

    Wow. I've read most of the post on here and I'm in shock of how ignorant most people can be of things they are so sure of. Please read the full article, and be sure of the facts that we do know befor You chime in. Second don't blam CNN or there reporters for reporting there theorys of the story. If You read any news report You would know that they are not reporting there theories, they are reporting they theories of the the people looking into the event. I could go on and on, but I'm not. Those were just the two that bothered me the most.

    January 3, 2011 at 9:56 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Nancy

    I think LASERs should be included in the differential for the deaths of the birds in Arkansas. Birds in the path of a laser beam could be blinded, become spatially disoriented and crash to the ground. As well, laser beams can cause internal hemorrhaging, so wonder if there was any internal hemorrhaging prior to the physical trauma of hitting the ground. Laser beams can cause permanent damage to the eyes which may explain why some birds on the ground are moving around disoriented. Laser beams being projected into the sky have been an increasing concern by the FAA with a recent report a few days ago of two people in a police helicopter in Florida being temporarily blinded by a laser beam, evaluated in ER and found to have eye hemorrhages.

    January 3, 2011 at 10:58 pm | Report abuse |
  12. N'Vane

    THERE IS NO GOD!!
    HAvent you guys F&^%'N figured that one out yet???
    Reaserch GOD for 1 day and tell me all the truth you find..

    January 4, 2011 at 12:47 am | Report abuse |
    • God beliver

      GOD IS REAL you are going to hell when you die. You don't belive in your own father that is sick. now get off of the dope and pick up a bible. God is more real than anything definetely more real than you. GOD RULES and if we disapoint him he will destroy us. remember 2012 the end is near us so you nvane better pray like there is no tomorow if you don't wanna get fire bombed and rot in hell when you die!! GO TO CHURCH

      January 4, 2011 at 6:46 pm | Report abuse |
  13. CNN Reader

    According to http://neic.usgs.gov/neis/recent/nm123110c_m.html , there was a mild earthquake 15 minutes before the new year, about 28 miles away from Beebe, AK. Interesting...

    January 4, 2011 at 1:32 am | Report abuse |
  14. nan

    to much parting did them in

    January 4, 2011 at 10:13 am | Report abuse |
  15. nan

    to much NYE parting

    January 4, 2011 at 10:26 am | Report abuse |
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