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. JustMe

    We had too many blackbirds anyway. They shoot cannons through the neighborhoods to make them leave. Why are ppl upset when they finally took care of this?

    January 3, 2011 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
  2. phylly59

    If this is such a common occurance, Why have'nt they been reported?

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

      They have...
      but un this new climate of fear that we live in,
      people are expecting terrorists to poison us, gas us, or blow up at coffee shops, as well as waiting for the End-of-times, and waiting for the return of Jesus.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • DevD

      Similar events have happened across the world, not necessarily in america. I distinctly remember the stories about dead birds falling out of the sky in Britain and most probably australia. In all cases authorities have been clueless. Which is why I think the birds may be flying into an 'invisible obstacle'.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Dan

      I'm waiting for Ash to fall from the sky with his boomstick.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:05 pm | Report abuse |
  3. RockdaBoat

    Lets get soem facts straight.

    First the bird deaths happen shortly before midnight in a specific area about a mile radius.

    At midnight birds are nesting/sleeping so something roused them from their sleep. Also the birds specifically red-winged black birds and starlings didn't just fall out of the trees. They died in flight. All I know is that I don't believe that crock of bull that it was lighting or hail. WTH? Really? Neither excuse from officials would explain why this occured in a controlled area. Also, unless these birds were born yesterday lighting or hail isn't a new occurance that would starle them. Birds deal with wind, rain, lightning, thunder, hail, and other worse forms of inclement weather.

    Im fully prepared to accept that we will never be given a straight answer on this. SUCKS!

    January 3, 2011 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Markc

    Birds–beware of the explainer although I do like the gravity bit. It does explain why airplanes usually come down (land/crash/go to Bermuda etc.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:01 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Kattisch

    So what kind of chemicals is the government experimenting with that would make birds drop out of the sky? Is it HAARP experimenting with waves? And why isn't everyone concerned about the effects on humans in the area instead of how they arrived at the number of birds?

    January 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. fanta

    Could be a terrorist bio-chem test........or just my imagination working overtime........but I wouldn't put those infidel haters past anything !

    January 3, 2011 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Kim

    In regard to the birds, is it possible that they were somehow caught up in a tornado or other extreme weather in the midwest as they were migrating south? Preliminary autopsies reveal internal trauma to their organs. Perhaps they were injured and continued flying until they all reached that portion of Arkansas.

    In regard to the fish dying, has anyone considered that there have been some small magnitude earthquakes in Arkansas during the past several months. Sometimes earthquakes cause gases to be emitted from below the crust of the earth which are toxic. Since only one species of fish died and not other ones in the area, it could be that such a gas killed or altered what that species of fish feeds upon and did not affect the other fish due to their eating other things in the river.

    Just a thought about both events....

    January 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Mymessage

    Although it is difficult to conclude what cased the birds to die, it might be one of the scary events expected to happen as a sign of the second coming of Jesus christ. because if you read the Bible, it says that you will see scary events both on the earth and in the sky, and when you see such things remember that the end is approaching. Look what is happning right now in Australia, destructive flooding and the same thing last time in Pakistan city. the many earthquake events happned last time and also now in some parts of the world. The war rumers acrross the world. The many false christs that have already exist in our world. the killing of many chrstians and distruction of churches by terrerist groups. So, my dear people what are all these alarming events? So, my personal view on the death of the birds is that it could be one of the scary events to happen in the sky before our lord Jesus comes. Let us start to count this event (death of birds) as the first and await another scary event in the sky. Therefore, when time comes to see more and more strange events both on the earth and in the sky,we will remember and trust the bible. So, dear readers, all these strange signs happning in our world alarming us to confess our sins and worship God. May God open our hearts, minds, ears, and eyes to listen to him and live the way he wants us to live.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • LookAndSEE

      I agree, as each day pases, we are one day closer to that Grand Event. Soon, the "man of sin" will make his appearance and deceive most people(even Christians). Read the Bible

      January 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
  9. showmeoz

    Connect the dots: massive fish kill in the Arkansas River 100 miles from BeeBee bird kill and recent earthquake clusters smack dab in between the two – it is a common belief among locals that the earthquakes are being caused by natural gas extraction in the region through a controversial method called fracting. This region is a fragile karst topography made up of limestone, which already has a spiderweb of naturally occurring fissures running throughout the region (this is why we have tons of caves and springs in this region). Natural gas is trapped inside these rocks. Gas companies are drilling into the rock and using high-power explosives to fract -or fracture – the rock deep in the earth in order to release the trapped natural gas. Some people in the region have reported natural gas seeping into their private wells, making the water coming from their taps flammable. And it is a known fact that there has been an unprecidented number of earthquakes in the region surrounding this fracting technique. Why hasn't anyone posed the theory of a natual gas cloud killing both the birds and the fish? if natural gas is coming up into peoples houses via the wells, it isn't impossible that a large gas bubble could escape through natural or created fractures in the rock, much like a natural water spring, killing the birds and the fish? This cries out for INVESTIGATION!

    January 3, 2011 at 1:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • Brandon

      The fish died 125 miles away from the birds. Mostly one type of fish and mostly one type of bird died. Natural gas would have killed anything in the area, and wouldn't have targeted one species. Correlation ≠ Causation

      January 3, 2011 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
  10. louky 502

    i didnt read all the comments but i am gonna throw out H.A.A.R.P. in case someone else hasnt already

    January 3, 2011 at 1:10 pm | Report abuse |
  11. DevD

    Any theory that 'EXPLAINS' this sudden death of the birds, should be able to explain all the other cases where dead birds have fallen out of the sky. The characterestics of all the cases are similar, hence it cannot be natural gas in Arkansas, and poisoning somewhere else. Wish people would start looking beyond america, and beyond this specific event, and try to look at the problem wholistically.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      If you have any suggestions beyond weather or other reasons mentioned in the report feel free to share them. Any global issue wouldn't affect such isolated groups of birds. Part of looking at something holistically is to realize when an isolated incident is isolated.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jan

      Specific toxins have been developed that are species driven. An example, DRC-1339 kills rock pigeons, starlings and red-winged blackbirds. It is not effective on finches and sparrows. This poison has been used internationally. A native species of this country, Red-winged blackbirds are now identified as nuisance birds and are not protected as are migratory birds. I'm betting some farmer was given government permission to poison and the poison took longer than planned. The birds flew to a more visible area and folks witnessed what has been going on for quite a while to certain species of birds, and mammals, for that matter.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      heres the real explanation http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nqxzfsxDmQY

      January 3, 2011 at 2:02 pm | Report abuse |
    • Klatu Berata Nicto

      Air pressure change caused by a tornado. There was a Tornado near the area. Dont you people read the other stories?

      January 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • pat

      Why havent we seen any stories connecting the sudden death of 100,000 fish in Ark. to the 3000 birds suddenly falling from the sky? These stories are too similar not to be related?

      January 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • john anthony

      its not fireworks! a mall in fla. has city land fill across from it and has year long fight for over 18 yers now. they have aways used very loud fireworks to keep birds away from parked cars.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Angela

      Most likely, we (concerned Citizens) will never know the truth of what caused the fish and birds to die. This story is similar to the fish kill that happened in Louisiana last year (2010). Officials mentioned that lack of oxygen caused the massive kill. Glad I don't live there. I would diffidently stop eating fish.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:22 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mark

      The actual explanation is quite clear in one word... Daleks!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • manmademyth

      also explain to me why the dead fish arent even linked to these birds dieing in the same state? also why have the forums on cnn changed the way you post? why do they want my email now? and im not longer logging into cnn?

      January 3, 2011 at 2:32 pm | Report abuse |
    • George

      DevD sez: "Any theory that 'EXPLAINS' this sudden death of the birds, should be able to explain all the other cases where dead birds have fallen out of the sky."

      False, because there are multiple reasons why birds have fallen out of the sky.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomethingsAMiss

      Funny. A lightening strike or hail kills only 5,000 of one bird species. Interesting. Then, one species of fish. This looks like a cover up. Something more serious is going on here. Could this be a test of DNA warefare? Can mankind now OFF particular DNA sequences? Looks like it. This was a demonstration. That is my opinion.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:33 pm | Report abuse |
    • steve

      common you guys, it was Bush had be everything is his fault.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:35 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bruce

      Jan, it is suggested that there were other flocks of blackbirds in the area but that only this one was affected.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:39 pm | Report abuse |
    • Bonnie B.

      Arkansas has experienced quite a few small earthquakes lately. What if there was a minor earthquake that released methane gas? That would explain the deaths of the fish and the birds.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Report abuse |
    • Johnny

      Please learn to use the term 'holistic' properly. I know what you're trying to say, but you botched it by using a term in a false way.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Report abuse |
    • Damien

      arkansas has an an inordinate amount of earthquakes and after shocks lately, given there is so much we still don't know about our planet possibly this may have had something to do with it

      January 3, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      aka the gods have recalled this specie they created. please recall all the christians next so we can get rid of this almighty need to try and control non believers

      January 3, 2011 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      yeah hey... I just wiki'd methane gas and it said quote it only affects black birds and one species of fish.
      amazing palin stupids are able to exhale the air they inhale.... actually its unfortunate.

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

      @pat: "Why havent we seen any stories connecting the sudden death of 100,000 fish in Ark. to the 3000 birds suddenly falling from the sky?" ... Because they are unrelated. The birds fell in a small isolated square mile area 125 miles from where the fish died. Why should we think there's a connection?

      January 3, 2011 at 3:06 pm | Report abuse |
  12. calkit

    Saturday the birds were going nuts in Florida.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • SomethingsAMiss

      Florida's for the birds. Move to to top of Amalfi Drive in Pacific Palisades, CA... the home of sanity. That is my opinion.

      January 3, 2011 at 2:36 pm | Report abuse |
  13. MomOf2Kiddos

    I think it has to do w/natural gases and all those earthquakes that have been happening in the area for the last several months.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • Mike

      I would prepare for an earthquake, probably a big one. Its been a while for this area and released gasses probably killed the birds and fish. And yes 125 miles is in the area when you look at the big picture. The quake probably wont happen today but the following weeks should be interesting.........................

      January 3, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • bspurloc

      so the new taco bells in this 125mile area arent to blame huh

      January 3, 2011 at 3:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nick

      They were killed by rednecks shooting shotguns into the air on new years eve.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Report abuse |
  14. john doe

    This is easy, high power radar. Back in the day (50's) you would briefly test high power tracking radar on birds. You juice it up then see the birds dive to the ground, then you would turn if off. They would dive because they would get warm inside. If you left it on and they didn't go all the way down (below the envelope), you'd cook their insides.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      Gee, makes you wonder why military radar doesn't fry people in airplanes, blimps and balloons.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Report abuse |
    • JReedy

      In response to SciGuy, it doesn't cook people in planes because the planes fuselage reflects the RADAR, it kinda has to or the RADAR isn't going to be able to detect the plane. RADAR works by receiving the reflected energy back from objects in airspace that normally would allow the RADAR transmission to propagate unimpeded. When something flies into the path of the RADAR the RADAR impulses are reflected back to the antenna where the characteristics of the reflection (magnitude, velocity etc) allow the object to be classified.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:52 pm | Report abuse |
    • Nicole D.

      Sci, I think its because it isn't usually directed inside of the plane. My husband used to fix F-15s and F-22s, and they had to be careful when they were messing with the radar for this reason.
      However, this reason has absolutely nothing to do with the 5000 birds that fell here. If someone were firing up waves like that in a residential area, there would be people around with negative effects as well.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Report abuse |
    • cathy

      maybe we are all being slowly fried!

      January 3, 2011 at 2:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • tt


      Ever heard of a microwave?
      Hmm, makes you wonder why they used to call them radar-ranges...

      January 3, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • James

      This is a myth that just won't go away. The pulsed radars in those days only had a few hundred watts of average power, and certainly not enough to heat them instantaneously. Think about it. A radar with that much average power would require a field strength so high it would exceed the ionization potential of the air. (RF Engineer here)

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

      We have to keep the distance around avionics radars to ensure at least 2:1 safety factor over the maximum field strength allowed by OSHA. For radars (over 300 Mhz) this is set as 61.4 volts per meter (baseline). The main risk is thermal energy on critical parts of the body that exceed it's ability to dissipate. The exposure limits are very conservative to begin with, and newer radars do not radiate more than a few watts of average power, so the risk is almost zero. But we have to make sure OSHA is covered.

      January 3, 2011 at 3:31 pm | Report abuse |
    • sciguy73

      @JReedy Yes, radar reflects from the fuselage. It also penetrates the windows and bounces around inside if the wavelength is much smaller than the windows openings. Thats why the idiot sitting next to you on the airplane is able to get his cell phone and wireless internet to work while flying. Think about it. And whats your excuse on a blimp with large windows? Or a hot air balloon? You are being irradiated. But even though radars may peak in the Megawatt range, their duty cycle is extremely low. The average power density is therefore low. Especially once you get a signifcant distance from the antenna. Inverse square law, and all that.

      @Nicole D, Yes, when servicing any type of radio emitting equipment, you must be careful of exposure. i.e. Don't lean across a transmitting antenna. But a mile, 2 miles, 10 miles out from the antenna, it isn't a concern at all. I agree that had nothing to do with the birds.

      @"tt" Yes, and do you know your wireless on your laptop operates on exactly the same frequency as your microwave? 2.4 GHz? OMG! What were they thinking? Your brain must be cooking! Or some other portion of your anatomy.

      @James Thank you for a welcome dose of critical thinking, which was, in an indirect way, what my original post was trying to inspire.

      January 3, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. gary

    I heard Obama blaming the previous administration.

    January 3, 2011 at 1:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • sue

      I read people in the internet blaming Obama.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
    • Carl

      Nah, it was Sarah Palin hunting from a helicopter.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:26 pm | Report abuse |
    • david

      Easily the lamest comment of the day! And that is your fault, but you'll probably blame someone else.

      January 3, 2011 at 1:53 pm | Report abuse |
    • bicycles

      Freddy Phelps

      you terrify me

      January 3, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Report abuse |
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