Debunking the Birdpocalypse

| 1/12/2011 11:28:25 AM

Red-winged blackbirds in Kansas 

As the bird carcasses pile up worldwide, falling from the sky like so many feathered omens of doom, it seems fair to ask if the many reported mass die-offs in recent weeks are a sign of the environmental apocalypse. The cool-headed bird geeks at the Audubon Society are here to reassure us: No, they’re not.

Audubon Society experts tell Alisa Opar at The Perch, Audubon magazine’s blog, that we shouldn’t read too much into the flurry of reported bird deaths.

“Mass bird die-offs can be caused by starvation, storms, disease, pesticides, collisions with man-made structures or human disturbance,” says Greg Butcher, Audubon’s director of bird conservation.

Opar fixes part of the blame for the bird hysteria “on technology allowing us to learn about isolated events and our impulse to look for patterns.” After the initial reports of coincidental die-offs, Google maps of bird deaths around the world quickly made the rounds, and flocks of amateur ornithologists collectively decided that it looked bad. Real bad. Before long, the birds seemed destined to join chemtrails and black helicopters as airborne signs of conspiracy and doom.

Now that the bird experts have calmed us down, we are left to focus our worries on other future apocalyptic scenarios. Reports Opar:

Isolated die-offs don’t pose a significant threat to our native bird populations, says Melanie Driscoll, Audubon’s director of bird conservation for the Mississippi River Flyway. “Far more concerning in the long term are the myriad other threats birds face, from widespread habitat destruction and global climate change to inappropriate energy development and invasive species.”

Tweet that, bird lovers.

1/15/2011 9:14:08 AM

thousands of birds in differnet areas die MID AIR with hemooraging and blood clots and fall (already) dead to the groud. The article above reeks of BS. What disease causes thousands of birds to hemorage and drop dead from the sky at the same time by the thousands?

1/15/2011 5:32:58 AM

I didn't get all wrapped up in the media hype and believed the occurrence to be related to environmental factors of the region. The migration patterns of various birds have changed over the decades and while I am not a specialist I think some species / flocks get confused.

Keith Goetzman
1/14/2011 11:17:05 AM

I didn't include explanations for the die-offs for a simple reason: In many of the cases even bird experts don't know for sure what caused the deaths yet, and as scientists they are wary of rushing to conclusions. Many of them are indeed studying the carcasses for clues, but doing so doesn't always yield definitive answers. What the Audubon Society experts are pointing out, and what I think is notable considering their expertise, is that these events happen all the time, and just because there a sudden media storm of bird-death reports doesn't mean there's a single explanation tying them all together. Ultimately, I am trusting that Audubon's directors of bird conservation know more about this than I--and most members of the public--do.