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. ken

    you just have to laugh when these "experts" say they are looking at a "trauma" event and its unlikely poison related....how does that explain the fish then?unrelated you say?really?can't wait to hear the "official" explanations on these stories....and how the general public will just accept them.

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

    What about this far fetched ideas. 1) Redwinged Blackbirds typically migrate from eastern Oklahoma along the Arkansas River valley to their winter roosting areas in East Central Arkansas. 2) Freshwater Drum typically move west along the Arkansas River from Lake Dardanelle being mid winter to spawn on the Mulberry and other rivers that feed into the Arkansas. 3) The fish kill was reported the day before the bird kill, which means that it is possible that the bird's path crossed the same area as the fish kill.

    So what's the cause? Contaminated water? Industrial spill? Seismic activity (several months prior to the famous Meridian earthquake, gas, oil and tar was sighted seeping from the bottom of area rivers and streams). Arkansas Nucelar One? (located just about 20 miles from the fish kill)?

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

      Keep in mind though, two types of birds and only one type of fish affected. You made me stop and think for a moment, but I can't get around those facts. Why only one type of fish? Weaker species? Chemical selectivity?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
  3. wHO rEALLY cARES??????


    January 3, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  4. Marco

    I was walking with this blond the other day and I said, "oooh, look at that dead bird"... she looked up and said, 'where'?

    January 3, 2011 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Humor is good, too. Lol.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  5. byron

    I'm not sure why some of these people self proclaiming to be rational and scientifically minded are so quick to dismiss this. The earthquake phenomenon has already been speculated that it could have something to do with all the natural gas drilling and hydrofracking. That area has also pumped enormous amounts of water out of the ground for farming as to cause lawsuits. It is connected to the New Madrid Fault which caused an earthquake so large in the 1800s that it was said to have rang the liberty bell. It also has a big old fat nuclear power plant sitting on top of it. The wrath of God? ..maybe not. However, geological phenomenon very often have precursor events that involve wildlife and plants.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      See my reply to Jaeger. I'm not doubting what you guys are saying as not being a possibility. But what about the species selectivity? Not arguing, I'm really wanting you guys to give me a second thought on that.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Dan

    I think it was something that they all ate. Blackbirds all travel together in packs. They all are likely to eat or drink from the same source as well. It is absolutely absurd to suggest that these birds were hit by lightning, or some other weather related phenomena killed these birds. The scientists who suggested this are the laughing stock of all other countries, which simply shows the stupidity of Americans right now at this point in history.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You are a total genius. You say they all ate something so they all got sick at exactly the same time and fell at the same time in the same spot? What did they eat, time released capsules? "Let's all fall at once guys! Ready, go!" If they ate something that poisoned them, they would have flown erratically in different directions, fallen out of the trees they were in, or stayed on the ground if they ate it there, etc.. random deaths and not all in the same spot.. and they sure as hell wouldn't have fallen at the same time. And then... then you have the audacity to call all Americans stupid? I hope that you are not one.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Also, poisoned birds generally would not be able to fly, especially in an organized group or flock, Dan.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      You are right. Conspiracy theories always carry much more weight. A solid scientific explanation is never plausible. Commoners such as yourself would never believe it. The chance to believe in something much more elaborate, like signs of the End-Of-Times, or domestic Muslim terrorists practicing their next move on a large body of people, are much more plausible explanation for such an event.
      You changed my mind. I now think God threw a lightning bolt down at them, and they all suddenly fell from the sky. Yup, yup, that's what happened. Scientific explanations are nonsense, because they are just erudite and condescending people that use big words that no one can understand. Those idiots.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Dan, I never once backed up anything I have said with religion, muslims, or that I believe in conspiracy theories. In fact, if you would take the time to read more, you would have seen that, in earlier posts, I'm against conspiracy theories and promote scientific explanation. The problem I had was that your explanations were not concrete. I'm not saying mine are perfect, but you throw your opinion out and then say that anyone that does not agree with it is stupid... or rather, that all Americans are stupid. That makes you an easy target in return. Then you show your ignorance of the situation, and of me, by accusing me of having beliefs or having made statements that I never made. Back up and look at how you come across, and read my earlier posts. You have me all fudged up with someone else. I even look back at my first post and feel bad because I made fun of conspiracy theorists and called them sheep, even though everyone has the right to their own opinion. Now I feel like I have grouped myself in with the likes of you, the obnoxious and insecure, and for that I am sorry. Just pay attention to what another person writes before you make false assumptions and accusations. That just makes you look bad and offends a person if they never said it. I'm sure you'll find justification for your remarks though.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  7. n orm

    This is the cause: A GEOMAGNETIC ANOMALY which occurs when the earth is about to experience
    unprecedented turmoil.... Watch the sequence of earthquakes, floods and fires....

    This is a sign that the earth is going through birthpanes and a new cycle will start very soon...

    It is not a mystery it is the natural progression of our planet s response to the damage we have
    inflicted on mother earth. Earth is reacting to defend herself from unnatural occurences we
    have created... The flood in AUSTRALIA is just the beginning. The ice shelves melting at
    an unprecedented rate causing sea levels to rise. The massive upheaval of the ice shelves
    is causing GEOMAGNETIC disturbances affecting all of us including all animals.

    The cause of the bird fall is our own mismanagement which have disrupted the normal cycle of the planet..


    Watch for signs in the skies.

    Be vigilant and hope for a better time where earth will again resume her normal life.....

    To be aware is to be forewarned...


    January 3, 2011 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      Whose "mother Earth?" Yours? Mine?

      define "unnatural occurences"

      if humans are a part of the Earth, then isn't everything we do and create "natural?"
      Or are going to suggest that we are all aliens from outer space?

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

      just great! wormwood is on its way. zombieland starts in a little town in arkansas

      January 3, 2011 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  8. byron

    The species selectivity could be explained that the drum are bottom feeders on a migration. The black birds and starlings are about the only birds on the move, right now. The idea that both of these migrating species happened to cross this event, traveling in opposite directions at about the same time, holds water.

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

      Possible. Are drum the only bottom feeder migrating right now? I'm not a fisherman and haven't looked it up. What about catfish or carp?

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

      ok, but why only those 2 species were affected? No others migrants this days? no other species awake in this time of the year in arkansas?
      i don't know wich fishes are awake in this time of year over there (same for the birds) 'cause i live in Italy, i was just wondering why only this 2 species (for what i've understood reading here) seams to be affected.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:41 pm | Report abuse |

    Dead animals washing up everyware. Hmmm, almost seems biblical in nature.

    Im not saying it think it is, but it is very weird.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Me

    Yep, must be the hail and lightning. Couldn't be related to the fish kill 190 miles away.... Couldn't be something wrong with Arkansas in general... like something toxic....

    January 3, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  11. kelvin

    poison.......the birds simply flow in a cloud of toxic air current........ toxins were released and the birds were caught up in this current leading to poison and death...

    January 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • publius enigma

      Can you explain why no one in the town they fell in suffered any toxic effects?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:23 pm | Report abuse |
  12. N. Peterson

    I find it interesting that birds were flying around midnight. Usually they roost and go to sleep.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      There were a lot of fireworks just before midnight. It was New Years. Not saying the fireworks killed them, but it would have put them on the move. Blackbirds always move and/or are startled by loud explosions. Farmers use air cannons to deter birds from damaging crops quite often. That's why they mentioned fireworks as a possibility in some of the news articles. You can clap your hands together and scare a flock of roosting blackbirds from 100 yards away.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      Just to the west of the subdivision all of the birds were found in, is a densely wooded area that is inundated with these black birds. I'm sure that is where they roost. It isn't too much of a stretch to see the possibility of some teenagers in these woods shooting fireworks off just to see how many birds take off.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • N. Peterson

      Thanks for the responses, I never thought of that. But why weren't any other species of birds found?

      January 3, 2011 at 12:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • Adam

      First, I need to point out that this is all speculation, but being as aggresive as black birds are they may very well keep any other species of birds from roosting in these woods. Also, being from this area for most of my life, I can tell you there aren't many species of birds in the area that flock together in numbers as high as black birds do. It is quite reasonable that they would have been the only birds in that part of the wooded area.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Conservativesarebraindead

    If I lived in Arkansas, I'd want to die too.

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

      You happen to be the most ignorant person that has posted in this thread. Congrats!

      January 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      the most ignorant person, according to Steve.

      everything flows through his genious.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:28 pm | Report abuse |
    • Trent

      It's spelt genius, genious!

      January 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      Nope. I apologize to you. It's definitely Dan.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I know you are, but what am I...

      nanna nanna boo boo

      January 3, 2011 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steve

      You actually made me laugh.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
  14. publius enigma

    Bird rapture!

    January 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm | Report abuse |
  15. It was my fault...

    I shot them all down with the Red Ryder BB Gun I received for Christmas!

    January 3, 2011 at 12:24 pm | Report abuse |
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