A Moment of Science

Why Birds Fell From The Sky Over New Years

News spread quickly about "birds falling from the sky." What happened to the birds?

Red-wing blackbird perched on a branch

Photo: Lee Blumin (flickr)

Over 4,000 Red-Wing Blackbirds fell to the sky over New Years.

You rarely think about animals having accidents or dying in odd ways. Television shows us wild battles for dominance between animals like lions and antelope. When the antelope dies, the lion has clearly won his battle and the audience doesn’t think any injustice has occurred.

However, a recent incident has gotten a lot of attention from the news media. Thousands of Red-Winged Blackbirds rained down on parts of Arkansas. The horrific scene of birds hitting cars and houses was shown all over the world. What could have caused this scene? Could it have been some sort of apocalypse or dooms day?

It Happens All The Time

Scientists were skeptical. Animal deaths are common yet rarely reported on. In fact, at least 10 billion birds die in North America each year due to natural causes. You also don’t see many dead birds because they are eaten by animals.

But, what caused the New Years incident?

Scientists examined many of the birds and found no signs of poison, toxic chemicals, or disease. The scientists concluded that the birds died from blunt-force trauma from loud noises and crashes.

Because fireworks were going off, the birds had to fly lower then they normal. In the dark, the birds had poor vision and likely could not see where they were going. Many birds flew into buildings, cars, fences, and other objects and could not survive the trauma.

Tall Objects And Weather Lead To Trouble

Tall objects, like skyscrapers and cell phone towers, are a common cause of bird deaths. Birds do not see the objects or become distracted and fly into them. Birds use something called a “cognitive map” to figure out where they are. Cognitive maps are just what they sound like: a mental version of where you are.

Birds also get injured during bad weather. Hail, lightening, and snow all make flying difficult for humans and there is no difference for birds. Many birds try to fly during ice storms and become completely iced over.

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Margaret Aprison

Margaret is a graduate of Indiana University with a degree in Telecommunications and a minor in Psychology. The daughter of two scientists, Margaret has been surrounded by the subject her entire life. She enjoys social media, writing, television, and, of course, science!

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