Four and Twenty Blackbirds . . . and Counting (Earth Current)

Painting of various blackbirds from across the United States. Artwork by Allan Brooks.

An investigation is still ongoing into the mass deaths of blackbirds around Beebe, Arkansas and Baton Rouge, Louisiana in early January. Around 3,000 red-winged blackbirds, along with a few other species, were found by Arkansas residents on New Year’s day, and over 500 birds turned up dead in Louisiana on January 3rd. Scientists from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center who have been investigating the deaths have not found any signs of disease or a connection between the incidents. Autopsies on the birds have turned up evidence of internal bleeding, which indicates a traumatic injury.

While some news reports and conspiracy theorists have been quick to interpret the blackbird deaths as an ominous New Year’s omen, scientists point out that “while large scale bird die-offs are always a concern, they are not that unusual.” They speculate that the blackbirds, who roost together in large groups, were startled by a loud sound (New Year’s fireworks, perhaps?) and that mid-air collisions may have caused the injuries. People who find dead or sick birds should report them to their state conservation agency.

For all the latest science news, check out our twice-weekly news rundown, Earth Current.


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