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. Helmet

    In other news, 50 male deer were crossed with 50 female pigs, resulting in a hundred sows and bucks

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

    very strange for two large groups of animals living in the same area but two completly different environments to just die like that

    January 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      the damned mohammed jihads poisoned the water supply with ricin.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  3. DevD

    Similar cases of 'dead birds falling out of the sky' have happened all across the world, and authorities have not been able to explain the reasons behind it. It is truly a mystery. In most cases the birds appear to have suffered some kind of shock, with broken wings and broken beaks. Sounds to me almost like they flew into 'an invisible obstacle', like when birds fly into a window pane and die from the impact. If so, what could this obstacle be? A military vehicle or an alien spacecraft?

    January 3, 2011 at 12:47 pm | Report abuse |
  4. daniel

    ya i agree. I'm stoned and this story is freaking me out

    January 3, 2011 at 12:48 pm | Report abuse |
  5. James

    One thing they haven't mentioned is jetwash from large aircraft such as a passenger or military cargo jet. The vorticies remain for tens of minutes and can be deadly to bird flocks. If you look at the area in google maps, both Davis international and Little Rock AFB main runways point in Bebee's direction. Little Rock AFB's arcs from the west, turning inbound almost directly over Bebee, AR (Radial 077 inbound turn), and aircraft will be descending from 3,000 down to 1,800. An aircraft in an ILS approach will also be "dirty" and slow, making the turbulence even worse. Remember that wake turbulence has torn tail sections off of other aircraft, so a flock of small birds wouldn't have a chance. They would be beat around and made "non-flyable" quickly.

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

      Ref LRAFB RWY 27 ILS approach – airnav dot com.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:50 pm | Report abuse |
  6. sagewy

    Okay, if a storm pressure caused this then this means it has happened in the past? I am not buying it and I personally do not like to be "handled" meaning we are being reassured it was not poisen when in actuality,,,,,,,,they have no clue yet.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Dylan

    Diane, the methane thing is a pretty good guess, but wouldn't it have killed ALL the fish instead of only drum in that 20 mile stretch of the Arkansas river? As for the birds...maybe they stopped thinking happy thoughts....

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

      Dylan, Drum fish are on a migrating pattern to spawn at this time of year.. I'm guessing a large school of Drum Fish were in the area and that is why only the Drum fish were affected.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Dan


    January 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Just a thought.

    Could the blackbirds possibly have been sickened by whatever killed the fish?? They may have stopped in that area and ate close to the shore.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I can almost hear your mind working...
      there is definately a conneciton. Someone posted earlier that these phenomena are within a 50 miles proximity.
      To me, there is definately a conneciton. And birds drink water... fish swim in it...
      so yes – 2 plus 2 is 4,
      and these phenomena are linked.

      damned mohammed jihads poisoned the water in Arkansas – ARKANSAS OF ALL PLACES!!

      January 3, 2011 at 12:58 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Wewanthetruth


    January 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  11. Pat Lundgren

    The recent earthquakes, drilling stopped and dead wild life are not a Coincidence!!!!!!!!

    January 3, 2011 at 12:51 pm | Report abuse |
  12. sagewy

    oh, and it was one species that died,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,a natural incident would not affect just one species in my humble opinion?

    January 3, 2011 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  13. daniel

    remember signs? If aliens came they would use cloaking device like that so they felt safe and so they could watch us and study us without us peeing them and freaking out. Think about if you went to another intelligent planet wouldn't you want to be invisibile for awhile to see if the aliens were nice and understanding beings and wouldn't just kill you

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

      I many Vedic texts of India, they talk about flying vehicles called 'Vimanas' which are just like UFO's. They can move noiselessly in all directions and most importantly, they can become 'invisible at will'.

      January 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  14. noel

    somewhere, a herd of green pigs is laughing.

    January 3, 2011 at 12:56 pm | Report abuse |
  15. RyantheNome

    Just some mad scientists from FlashForward

    January 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
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