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. brian ferguson

    Every time anything happens a bunch of wingnuts (like several commenters here) feel the need to soundoff with inane and just plain stupid ideas on government wrong-doing. And, even more so now that a Democrat is President. Some people are just obviously stupid and/or crazy. It appears others are Repugnants and can't think for themselves, so they believe every word idiots like Rush Fatmouth, Glen Bonehead and all the right-wing blowhards spew out.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  2. TrixieRose

    Are we actually going to hear the real reason 5000 birds fell from the sky and 100,000 drum fish are dead in Arkansas.The fireworks and weather excuses are lame,because an officer said that on Saturday morning he saw birds still falling from the sky.When crews came to do the investigation they were in hazmat suits,so I realize they don't want people to panic,but how safe is it for people there now?

    January 3, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  3. Archie

    We live about fifteen miles northeast of Beebe (where the birds fell). We saw a huge flock of blackbirds flying toward Beebe just about dark Dec 31st. Odd that we didn't see any birds falling from the sky don't you think? No fireworks or storms in our area either. I think that the birds ran into a cloud of natural gas released as a result of "fracking". We have new gas wells EVERYWHERE! I'll bet the fish suffered the same fate. The fish kill occurred in Northwest Arkansas on the Arkansas River. Another spot where fracking is commonplace to extract natural gas. Bet you won't hear anything about natural gas or the fracking technique when the authorities report their findings.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Buckshot

      You won't hear about a result that blames hydrofracking (if that's the real cause) because it's backed by the political machine and there are pockets to be lined. There's too much money to made in this deal and no amount of dead animals will deter them from their profits. The answer will blame something crazy, such as unique weather storms and the sheeple will swallow it all, just as they have many times previously.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • TrixieRose

      Well,if it was fracking why only drum fish,they feed off the bottom and why only red winged blackbirds and no other kind?There's got to be something both eat that could cause it,red winged blackbirds don't eat fish,but seeds,insects and such.Where the dead fish are is around Ozark,which is where the Arkansas Power Plant is located,the birds might have come from that area and not sure if there's a connection to that,which I don't think we'll hear the real reason anyhow.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Wewanthetruth

      What about HAARP?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:27 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Gail Pacious

    I see birds, especially crows, as a sign of impending death. I think that it is some kind of warning (from God...or some unknown power) of destruction of some type on the United States in the year 2011. I think that may be why it occured just before New Year's day. Perhaps it was done by terrorists to somehow scare the American people....but, I don't know how they could have flown over U.S. air space undetected....Bottom line...it's a warning...change our ways immediately...repent of our wrong doing, or accept the consequences.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
    • lol!


      January 3, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Is your goal to just scare people and make them unhappy?

      January 3, 2011 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  5. Stephen MacWhinnie

    Blame this one on Obama Too. rotflmao.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
  6. Gloria

    So why didn't other birds fall from the sky with the black birds

    January 3, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  7. bobby

    Maybe the apocalypse will start in Arkansas? lol. We will have to wait and see what the necropsy results are.This might be an episode of Conspiracy Theory with Jesse Ventura in the Works. haha

    January 3, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  8. kayaker247

    I'm fairly certain this is either a Biblical or UFO event. There's no other explenation.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      I hope you are joking.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  9. Steve

    Dr Trout is the only person on this post that uses any sort of logic or common sense. The only way the fish or the birds would have died in mass so suddenly is from sudden trauma, pertaining to that flock of birds or that species of fish. All species of birds were not affected. All species of fish were not affected. Disease takes time for each animal and they would fall or float randomly as it affected each animal. A chemical would affect more than just one type of bird or fish, so rule that out. People would probably be sick also. In that 20 mile stretch there would be dozens of different species of fish that were NOT affected. A few corrections: Yes.. it was initially reported as 1,000 birds.... it is now 5,000 birds give or take. Numbers have to be revised as they are counted. And the fish count is probably going to be in the 10's of thousands and maybe a hundred thousand. The birds were red winged blackbirds and starlings, which fly in very large flocks (groups). If a sudden traumatic event happened to them, it would take out a large number. But they fly in flocks as big as a hundred thousand, so 5,000 was probably one group that was knocked out in that square mile of air. The fish that died were all drumfish, no other species reported to have been affected. The birds and the fish were probably both weather related. But even the firework theory is possible with the birds. Scare up a large flock of birds and then shoot a rather large exploding round into the group, and the shockwave alone could take down the whole group. They are little birds, not people... they can't handle what we can. What's mildly traumatic to us would be greatly traumatic to them. Stop with all of the doomsday, alien, conspiracy theory crap already. I live within 20 miles of where the birds fell. Nobody is sick. They REALLY did only fall in a small area. There weren't any in my neighborhood or front yard. Relax. So many people are so gullible and so easily influenced by each other. I just don't get it. Like a bunch of sheep. Bahhhhh.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  10. resago

    My vote is for the New Madrid Fault, carbon monoxide or sulfur dioxide gas cloud. (or poisoning)
    explains the fish too.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      It's still only one type of fish, and two types of birds that fly in large flocks. How did it not affect any other birds or fish. Your theory makes more sense than others, but it doesn't account for that. There would be many other animals affected in those confined areas.

      January 3, 2011 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • resago

      depends on how big the cloud was and how long it was concentrated enough to harm the birds. One big flock at just the right(wrong) time. As for the fish, it could have been one large migrating school in the wrong place at the wrong time.
      ehh, we'll see I guess.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  11. just a guy

    I live 20 miles from where this happened. This is a highly unusual event,along with the fish kill that happened (about 50 miles away) makes me think there's something strange going on.I'm not buying the weather and fireworks stories.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  12. Five

    They heard Oprah's new network OWN was launched and decided to kill themselves.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Laurie

      Five!! That was a good one.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |


    January 3, 2011 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  14. gregory

    No one has connected this to the thousands of fish that died also in Ark yet?
    the two stories are sitting on top of eah other on cnn's home page

    January 3, 2011 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
  15. stick dog

    The natural gas theory sounds about right – humans aren't good tenants of the earth – we'll never last as long as dinosaurs did.

    January 3, 2011 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
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