Some Brief Thoughts on the Mysterious and Inconvenient Mass Death of Birds in Arkansas and Sweden

You can’t fail to have heard about the recent rain of dead and dying blackbirds in Arkansas over the new year. Up to 5000 American Blackbirds were found dead or dying in the streets and gardens of Bebe, Arkanas. Less well covered is that this seems to have coincided with a mass Drum fish-die-off in the same state.

Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin Monday will solve the mystery of why up to 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year’s Eve.

The birds — most of which were dead — were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. The blackbirds fell over about a one-mile area, the commission said in a statement.

As of Saturday, between 4,000 and 5,000 blackbirds had been found dead, said Keith Stephens with the commission.

Today, in an almost certainly unrelated development, another rain of dead birds has been reported in Sweden.

Dozens of dead birds have been found lying in a residential street in Sweden, days after thousands of birds fell to their deaths in the US.

Police in the town of Falkoeping have told Swedish media that between 50 and 100 jackdaws had died.

Some are said to have been hit by cars but others have no visible injuries.

There have been no reports of fireworks or storms in Falkoeping at the time.

This has been followed with a certain amount of panic, with fears that an epidemic of bird dying is on the verge of sweeping the planet. Far be it for me to rule that out, and if it gets people to consider the very real plight that wild birds are experiencing in these days of diminishing habitat and widespread pollution then I’m good with that.

However, the fact is that things, including flocks of birds, fall out of the sky far more than we like to admit. Had the first instance in Beebe not received such global coverage it is likely that we probably wouldn’t have heard about the Sweden event, which appears to be a smaller occurrence.

That’s not to diminish what happened. I’m greatly interested in anything peculiar, and in particular anything that impacts the well-being of wildlife, and would much rather hear about such things than they be ignored or merely local news. My point is simply that we should not conclude that there is suddenly a wave of bird deaths. We’re just paying attention for once.

I’m not convinced by the suggestion that ordinary fireworks are responsible. The birds were spread over a mile-wide area, more than you’d expect from a single rocket impact. Millions of rockets are let off every year without wiping out the local bird population. It IS possible that there was something unusually toxic about an Arkansas firework, and it somehow created a cloud of serious poisonousness. That’s just speculation, and I look forward to hearing the toxicology reports on the dead birds, not to mention whether or not any of them were singed or smoke-blackened.

How the fish tie in to this I’m not sure, as they were unlikely to have been following the same flight-route as the blackbirds. The official explanation is disease, and the distance from Beebe does suggest that it’s just a coincidence of timing.

Poison, from somewhere, does seem to be the most likely cause of synchronised dying. Disease would tend to spread it’s victims over a wider time-range, owing to differences in resistance and time of transmission. I understand that poison is currently being ruled out in Arkansas, owing to the lack of ill-effects felt by the local cats after their unexpected feast, but there are certainly substances which have a more toxic effect to birds than to mammals. Not to mention that when you are flying, you don’t have to be poisoned to death in order to die. Getting knocked out while airborne is quite sufficient, and I would imagine that falling to your death in such a fashion would look quite a lot like the “trauma” diagnosis that officials are currently going with. It is not for nothing that miners used to take canaries into mines to detect foul air. They feel the effects of such things long before humans (and I would imagine, cats).

Charles Fort, hero to all students of the mysterious, chronicled a very great number of items of diverse variety falling from the sky, moving around in the sky, and otherwise not being quite where they were supposed to be.

A quick search through his 1919 work, “The Book of the Damned”, (“Damned”, in this case, refers to Damned Data that mainstream science was choosing to ignore) came up with these two examples of birds perishing en masse in mysterious circumstances. I post this not to suggest any particular connection, but merely to illustrate that such things happen, and have been for a long time.

The Book of the Damned:

Tremendous red rain in France, Oct. 16 and 17, 1846; great storm at the
time, and red rain supposed to have been colored by matter swept up from
this earth’s surface, and then precipitated (_Comptes Rendus_, 23-832).
But in _Comptes Rendus_, 24-625, the description of this red rain
differs from one’s impression of red, sandy or muddy water. It is said
that this rain was so vividly red and so blood-like that many persons in
France were terrified. Two analyses are given (_Comptes Rendus_,
24-812). One chemist notes a great quantity of corpuscles–whether
blood-like corpuscles or not–in the matter. The other chemist sets down
organic matter at 35 per cent. It may be that an inter-planetary dragon
had been slain somewhere, or that this red fluid, in which were many
corpuscles, came from something not altogether pleasant to contemplate,
about the size of the Catskill Mountains, perhaps–but the present
datum is that with this substance, larks, quail, ducks, and water hens,
some of them alive, fell at Lyons and Grenoble and other places.

I have notes upon other birds that have fallen from the sky, but
unaccompanied by the red rain that makes the fall of birds in France
peculiar, and very peculiar, if it be accepted that the red substance
was extra-mundane. The other notes are upon birds that have fallen from
the sky, in the midst of storms, or of exhausted, but living, birds,
falling not far from a storm-area. But now we shall have an instance for
which I can find no parallel: fall of dead birds, from a clear sky,
far-distant from any storm to which they could be attributed.

In the _Monthly Weather Review_, May, 1917, W.L. McAtee quotes from the
Baton Rouge correspondence to the _Philadelphia Times_:

That, in the summer of 1896, into the streets of Baton Rouge, La., and
from a “clear sky,” fell hundreds of dead birds. There were wild ducks
and cat birds, woodpeckers, and “many birds of strange plumage,” some of
them resembling canaries.

Usually one does not have to look very far from any place to learn of a
storm. But the best that could be done in this instance was to say:

“There had been a storm on the coast of Florida.”

And, unless he have psycho-chemic repulsion for the explanation, the
reader feels only momentary astonishment that dead birds from a storm in
Florida should fall from an unstormy sky in Louisiana, and with his
intellect greased like the plumage of a wild duck, the datum then drops

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