Monday, January 3, 2011

The sky is falling...

...or rather, dead birds are falling from the sky. Most recently, it has happened in the midwestern U.S., but it has occurred all over the world. The bird species vary and so do the the suggested causes. The phenomena remains a mystery and is unrelated to the migratory fallout of neotropical songbirds. Here are 3 examples with selected quotes:
1,000 Red-winged blackbirds (1st image)
Beebe, Arkansas, U.S. 12/31/10
The birds fell over a 1-mile area, but illness or poisoning is not suspected. Their bodies did show physical trauma, so they may have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail, but the timing suggests another explanation: "New Year's Eve revelers shooting off fireworks could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress."

100 Starlings (2nd image) Coxley, Somerset, U.K. 3/7/10 The dead and dying birds fell in a 12' area in the garden of nurse Julie Knight, who described, "They literally seemed to just fall out of the sky. It was like something out of Hitchcock's `The Birds' - it was absolutely terrifying. The sky was raining starlings. They seemed to have had a fright and were petrified....I've been a country girl all my life and I've never seen anything like it." Necropsies were inconclusive. They were all found to have physical injuries, such as broken wings and beaks, but no underlying health problems or toxins. It was speculated that they had flown into a glass conservatory or hit the ground as they changed direction in unison while being chased by a bird of prey, although these explanations don't square with witness reports.

1,000s of Wattle birds, yellow-throated miners, and honeyeaters Esperance, Western Australia 12/21/06+
Residents reported mass deaths of numerous bird species, which also included crows, hawks and pigeons. Necropsies ruled out infection, but not toxic algae or chemicals. One of the 1st informants, Michelle Crisp, counted 80 dead and convulsing birds in a single day and told reporters, "It went to the point where we had nothing, not a bird. It was like a moonscape, just horrible. But the frightening thing for us, we didn't find any more birds after that. We literally didn't have any birds left to die."
In January 2009, an official in Somerset County, New Jersey, admitted, "It was raining birds." Hundreds of starlings fell on roads and lawns, alarming local residents. But unlike the occurrences above, the cause was traced directly to a pesticide deliberately administered to eradicate a flock that had become a nuisance to a farmer and a health hazard to his livestock. It's just that the U.S. Department of Agriculture forgot to inform the public.

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