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What’s Causing The Mass Bird And Fish Deaths That Have Been In The News?
Posted on Tuesday, January 11, 2011 by eNature

Mass animal deaths have been in the news the past week or two and the specific cause of many remains a mystery.

But most naturalists are not ready to press the panic button. 

It’s an unfortunate fact that mass animal deaths often occur in nature, particularly during stressful periods such as cold snaps or natural disasters.  To most experts following the news, the numbers in recent reports are not particularly alarming.  As a frame of reference, there are probably 20 billion (estimates vary widely) wild birds in the United States and ornithologists estimate that bird mortality exceeds 5 billion birds annually.  Given those numbers, most of the reported incidents appear modest in scale and are consistent with previously observed events. 

A typical Atlantic hurricane may cause the deaths of hundreds of thousands of birds.  While it’s not a particularly pleasant statistic, that’s the way nature works.

Several recent incidences of groups of red-winged blackbirds being found dead appear to have been caused by the birds encountering obstacles while flying in the dark, which they don’t normally do.  Reported mass deaths of blackbirds in Arkansas and Lousiana were noticed immediately after holiday fireworks displays.  It’s entirely possible that the birds were startled by the fireworks, flying off into the night and into trees, power lines and other birds.  Necropsies (autopsies on animals) performed on the birds found in Arkansas showed extensive blunt force trauma to the birds, consistent with them flying into objects.

On a side note, collisions with objects such as buildings, power lines and radio antennae are a leading cause of bird mortality.  Toronto’s Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) estimates over one million birds perish annually from hitting the city’s skyscrapers while flying.

There have also been several fish kills reported in the past few weeks as well.  In these instances, the cause is most likely winter’s cold.  The East in particular has been experiencing a colder than normal winter to date.  One large fish die-off was reported in the upper Chesapeake Bay and was primarily of spot, a species known to be sensitive to cold.  There have been large die-offs of spot reported during previous cold winters on the Chesapeake.

A similar episode has recently come to light in Lake Michigan near Chicago as well, this time with Grizzard shad.  As with the Chesapeake’s spot, this species of shad is known to be more sensitive to cold than many other fish species.

So it’s most likely a combination of timing and unusual press coverage that’s brought these recent die-offs to the public’s attention.  There’s no shortage of threats to wildlife, so naturalists and state wildlife officials are always keeping an eye on our wildlife populations and continue to look for unusual trends in wildlife mortality.

And we’ll keep you informed here at eNature as we learn more.


Updated Wednesday, 1/2/10 with additional external links.

Learn more about how animals cope with winter's cold »

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Comments

your explanation might be correct, but what if it isn’t.  what if it is the ” canary in the mine shaft”?  what if there is no human explanation for what is happening to vulnerable wildlife?

Posted by e hart on 1/11

Somethings Highly Wrong!!!!!! We’re Not Being Told…. If This has Happened before…... Why Was it not Publicized before????

Posted by C.E. WILSON on 1/11

I agree with the rest of the posters. There is definitely something going on and I believe it is the government that is involved in this. I am not a conspiracy nutcase, I just believe that they are either testing things that they shouldn’t or purposely killing the birds. Why were their beaks blue which from what I’ve been reading, indicates some sort of poison.

Posted by Marie on 1/11

I think the main reason this was publicized so much is that it came at the new year. People are so willing to believe the world is ending and while the world as we know it may very well end, I don’t think the Earth is going to be destroyed. People will report anything that gets ratings or sells papers. Many of the mass deaths coincided with rough weather and sometimes certain weather conditions cause fish to die. Any time the news is slow, the media will play up anything unusual. I’ve been worried about the lack of birds at my feeders this year, but as soon as it snowed, they turned up en mass. I don’t think they know for sure what killed the birds.  I don’t think its a secret, just lack of knowledge and the unwillingness to admit ignorance.

Posted by Karen Oliver-Paull on 1/11

When I first read the headline on this article, I was really hopeful that someone actually knew why the birds and fish were dying. I am a bit disappointed now, but realistically I do understand that nature can be cruel, by our limited human standards. I don’t buy the firework theory because the birds that died would not normally be in flight at night, so that explanation didn’t make any sense. I really highly doubt the government is doing anything to cause this. Most likely, the birds have some sort of virus or natural disease that is killing them and that is the end of story. Humans travel the globe everyday and can carry the bugs around the world very fast. Maybe we are making the birds sick by carrying a bug that makes them sick..???... talk about irony.

Posted by Wendifly on 1/11

I just don’t buy some of these “theories.”  I don’t think it’s the end of the world, yet I think there are some environmental factors at work at least in some of these cases.  Fireworks?  Come on.  Why don’t more birds die over the 4th of July, then?

Posted by pamylla on 1/11

Although I’m sure that wildlife in general is suffering the same ill effects of immune system deregulation, pollution, environmental degradation and climate change that humans are subject to, there is no “normal” explanation that makes sense at this time. There are no viral, bacterial or toxic chemicals reported in the Red Winged Blackbird necropsies so that kind of rules the disease theory out, unless someone’s lying…
but that could never happen (sic.)

but, I have to say, I love this explanation…......

“they flew into each other” and that caused massive internal hemorrhaging….............

kach….BS…....ooooooo!

I’d laugh if this wasn’t so sad and such an obvious cover-up, that even this E-publication (that I used to rely on for accurate information) “appears” to be part of.

Posted by K.S. on 1/11

I find this piece utterly and totally irresponsible.  Birds flying into eachother or trees in the dark.  Are we presumed stupid? As for the cold bs, it’s happening in areas on the planet where it’s NOT cold, so what, that would be a sun issue?  This article is so blatantly pathetic it’s frankly hard to fathom ANY site would dare publish it, let alone one that touts “Nature”.

Posted by Awake on 1/11

I agree with many of the other posters that the explanations provided are probably a cover up.  I wonder if the fallout from the extreme amount of chemtrails that have be sprayed of late have anything to do with the mass die offs? (No, those are NOT contrails..please google CHEMTRAILS)  Or, as many predicted at the time of the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the corexit 9500(toxic dispersant) and dispersed oil has been picked up and spread by storms and has collected in areas where these birds and fish feed and live. Have the birds and fish been tested externally and internally for any toxins, molds, viruses, or bacteria? Shame on our government for allowing our environment to be polluted ON PURPOSE!!!!
People would not be so angry with them if the government was protecting the citizens and environment of our wonderful country rather than protecting BIG BUISINESS, BIG MONEY and the ELITE!!!  Just open your eyes and connect the dots!

Posted by Concerned citizen on 1/11

Even though I am not a rocket scientist, I, for once, would like to think the public is not being told hogwash on this subject. So now you are saying “yep, it’s from cold weather, or flying into objects. Better yet, let’s say fireworks caused the birds to stress out. PLEASE!!!!

I am quite disgusted that someone in upper mgmt,
in any given coporation, even Nature.com thinks we, the public, are so not intelligent enough, so they will say anything. For the Love of nature, if you don’t know what is causing this unnatural turn of events all over the world, then do everyone a favor and keep quiet. When you are really sure, then let the truth be told. Why does it seem so hard for you to tell the truth?
Hey, maybe it’s those darn aliens poisoning our sky’s. That is about as believable as the fireworks theory. Wake up, people, we are told to think fireworks, etc. You are insulting the very people who keep this world ticking. It’s sickening when the good, hardworking people from our country and around the world are not told the truth. As I said, if you don’t know what’s up, to date, keep your mouth shut. “Oh, what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive”.

Posted by Janet on 1/11

Yes, something is obviously up as well as they obviously don’t want us to know what.  9 US states and 13 countries having massive die-offs and THIS is what they want to feed us.  You bet something is up whether it’s the Chemtrails, Haarp, Toxins from the Gulf or all three or whatever, other than something is very wrong and it’s nice to see most agree.

Posted by Awake on 1/11

You all need to get a grip. 

*laughing* at those that say birds don’t fly at night. 

First - where do you think birds go at night??
They roost.  In trees.  Sudden explosions will cause them to startle and in fright yes fly into objects, wires, and each other.  They have traumatic wounds consistent with such collisions.

Do you think they just stay where they are? Have you never seen birds fly before dawn and after dusk?  (do any of you venture out at these times?? Or do you stay in your homes afraid the boogey man might get you? er I mean government agency…)

I work third shift and it is not unusual to hear birds at all hours of the night.  Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Look at how many birds became trapped in the lights in NYC’s 9/11 tribute. (Or is that another deliberatae ploy against us!)

Mass deaths have always happened.  We didn’t hear about them, because, first there wasn’t a widely used internet where most of the population got it’s info, or where people quickly share info with others. 

Plus with the internet much more mundane or frivolous news makes it to our attention more often as news agencies seek ways to print ‘fresh’ news and updates.

And you know, once one agency reports it, others quickly pick it up and ‘report’ it too.  And we will now hear more because more are going to report, more will be on alert for such mishaps. People seeing 3 dead animals in close proximity will now panic and call in reporting yet anotehr “massive’ kill, perpetuating the problem.

I live across the street from an airport and let me tell you the birds and ducks NEVER get used to it. I see them fly off in a panic on a regular basis when planes and helicopters fly overhead.  The ducks are always crashing into tree limbs, wires, etc.  I’ve seen ducks get hit by the nearby traffic.

Maybe if some one you got out more often and observed nature for yourself, you would realize how much sense these reports make, rather then jumping on some big bad conspiracy theory bandwagon.

Posted by patience on 1/12

I’m going with the “act of nature” idea because I have seen firsthand massive fish die offs when a sudden freeze comes in on the Texas coast & catches everything off guard. Afterwards, dead fish & shell creatures wash inland by the hundreds. I have seen high waves freeze in the upward position on the back bays of Galveston Island. An unusual sight to behold. With fireworks & an extremely fast moving storm like the ones that went through AR & OK could have caught the birds at a bad time. Another reason to outlaw fireworks. I hate it when people set off their fireworks around nature sanctuaries without any regard for anything but their selfish selfs.

Posted by Tuesday on 1/12

To those thinking all these die offs are “natural”:  Please explain why the U.S. Environmental Services workers had to wear hazmat suits and gas masks when they were picking up the 2000 dead birds in Beebe, Arkansas earlier this month?

Posted by concerned citizen on 1/12

Unbelievable. Is enature a front organization for the government or some commercial lobbying group? I refuse to drink up the Koolaid you are serving us! Please remove from you email spam list.

Posted by WillNotDrinkTheKoolaid on 1/12

What passes as “critical thinking” on the previous posts is just sad.  Birds do fly at night, especially when they are startled by fireworks.  For those who think “something is up”, please explain how anythinglike what all the illogical theories (like “chemtrails”, HAARP, etc) can target an individual species. Do you really think any chemical or “energy” can kill only red-wing blackbirds without killing everything in the same area?  That is more dumb and nonsensical than any of the reasons put forth by experts.  Pull your heads out of your conspiracy-theory-ridden butts and look at the facts, not the possibilities and guesswork of the internet myth du`jour.  Try research and learning so you can KNOW what happened, not just sit behind your monitor and believe.

Posted by Star Bricker on 1/12

For those of you that stated birds do not fly at night, you should be more informed before making such statements. Thrushes, warblers, cuckoos and woodpeckers migrate by night. Wildfowl migrate both day and night. Most songbirds migrate at night.

Posted by owl2hoot on 1/12

Yeah, this B.S came right down from the same parties who are covering up the B.P criminal activities.  Good bye e nature/MSM

Posted by john on 1/12

I’m sure this is a typo

...the article stated, “As a frame of reference, there are billions of birds in the United States and experts estimate that bird mortality exceeds 5 billion birds annually. “

Would you post a correction so we can attempt to understand the issue?

Also would appreciate references for more technical reports.

Thanks for all your good work…...

Posted by deb on 1/12

Star Bricker:

There may be something about the biology of Icteridae (Starlings, Redwing Blackbirds, Jackdaws, etc) which might render them more vulnerable to some variable or disturbance than other species of birds, so do not be too quick to rule out the fact that 1) there is an abnormal pathology occurring here, 2) the news media isn’t reporting accurate information for a variety of reasons, and 3) other unknown factors are indeed either contributing or responsible for the problem.

So far, most of the birds in the mass die-offs were all in the Icteridae family, and investigative fact-finding should be centered around why those birds, all over the world, appear to be suffering *blunt trauma wounds* and dying while other birds *appear* to be less affected by this disturbance.

I do not believe that the world-wide die-offs are “natural” in the sense that humans played no role.  We play a larger role than we should with regard to negative impact to other species, so summarily ruling out human fault - even if the article claims otherwise - would not be wise.

Posted by IER on 1/12

It’s a mystery like what is killing the honey bees. If the world would stop using chemicals & pollution maybe these things would not be happening.

Posted by JoAnn Pochciol on 1/12

The explanation for the die-off are simplistic.  What naturalists need to do is actually study the where and the when.  Please note that the dies -offs follow a pattern of travel from Canada to South America and the start again in Scandinavia.
The next thing to observe is that the die-off is associated with a specific species , one species at a time. The third item to take note is that the species involved are in large herds or flocks.  This does not demonstrate pathogens, or weather patterns, but suggest an intelligent interaction, something akin to the whale and dolphin episodes.  Consider someone testing a device.

Posted by Frank Verderber on 1/12

I was a bit put out about the article claiming that Reindeer and Caribou are the same species, but this article? It smacks of BP fluff. I am off the email list now for sure.

Posted by Elizabeth Noreen on 1/12

To those who interpreted my earlier posts as saying ‘birds don’t fly at night’ should take a more careful look at what I actually said. If you know anything about the species of birds that are dying (Icteridae which include Starlings, Redwings, Blackbirds, Jackdaws, etc), then you know they don’t ‘normally’ fly at night. See that I clearly said “I don’t buy the firework theory because the birds that died would not normally be in flight at night,” then you know I did not say that birds don’t fly at night.

  I live on the west coast of Florida and last January we had massive fish die-offs due to cold weather. The water temperatures inland dropped to levels far lower than the norm and we have so many non-native tropical fish living in our waters here that can not take cold water temps, so the die off was a natural but unintentional product of human activity. (Humans brought these non-native fish here many years ago and they have been thriving in the warm Florida waters and reeking havoc on the native aquatic life.) So, in the end, the fish die-off was beneficial to our ecology even though the huge number of fish dying might have seemed really sad. Nature has a way of balancing itself.
 
  Star Bricker: before you think other people’s ideas are ‘dumb and nonsensical’, explore your own ideas to be sure that they are accurate, correct, and based on truthful facts. The truth is out there and I’m willing to bet that whatever is happening to the fish and birds will have a solid scientific explanation in the end.
  People in general tend to what to ‘mystify’ what they don’t understand. Given time, a scientific explanation usually gives light to the things people don’t understand. This mystery is no exception. I am sure we will know soon why the animals die.

  On Wikipedia under Icteridae, it states: “Some species of icterid have become agricultural pests, for example Red-winged Blackbirds in the United States are considered the worst vertebrate pest on some crops, such as rice.[4] The cost of controlling blackbirds in California was $30 per acre in 1994. Not all species have been as successful, and a number of species are threatened with extinction. These include insular forms such as the Jamaican Blackbird and the St Lucia Oriole, which are threatened by habitat loss.” The birds dying in around the world are probably due to pest control measures by the farmers to protect their crops. Wait and see. I bet this will turn our to be the answer.

Posted by Wendifly on 1/12

Wendifly stated,

“On Wikipedia under Icteridae, it states: “Some species of icterid have become agricultural pests, for example Red-winged Blackbirds in the United States are considered the worst vertebrate pest on some crops, such as rice.[4] The cost of controlling blackbirds in California was $30 per acre in 1994. Not all species have been as successful, and a number of species are threatened with extinction. These include insular forms such as the Jamaican Blackbird and the St Lucia Oriole, which are threatened by habitat loss.” The birds dying in around the world are probably due to pest control measures by the farmers to protect their crops. Wait and see. I bet this will turn our to be the answer.”

I have a huge ethical and ecological problem labeling of any species as a “pest,” unless, of course, that label refers to Homo sapiens.

Media outlets outside of the US have been reporting that Icteridae which experienced sudden, mass die-offs had injuries consistent with “blunt-force trauma” indicating the birds were struck by a physical object, a sound wave, or the birds themselves struck a physical object.  There’s only three viable possibilities here.

The die offs patterns as discussed by Frank Verderber (above post) will be difficult to “explain away” in the affected locales in a relatively short duration of time because of the differing pesticide laws and growing seasons in the hemispheres affected.  In other words, farmers aren’t permitted to use poisons in some of those locations, and some of the locations are not growing crops which would attract the birds.

There is likely another variable(s) which has not yet been isolated, and triangulating reports from multiple, international sources appears to be ruling out widespread pesticides.

Posted by IER on 1/12

IER - grin “I have a huge ethical and ecological problem labeling of any species as a “pest,” unless, of course, that label refers to Homo sapiens.”
  I agree 100%! No matter when or if the enigma is ever solved as to what is killing our beautiful birds, I just hope that it stops! I fear that it will not stop until we do find what is causing it and make some changes to protect these defenseless creatures. Unfortunately, people don’t always obey the laws that are designed to protect life. Just because it is against the law for farmers to use poison doesn’t mean that they are not doing so. As I’m sure you know, the internet is global and it would only take one source (ie. farm supply store or pest control type site) who ships world-wide to cause such a devastating impact on wildlife. If poison can get into our food supply, our pets food supply, and agriculture feed, then I figure it could get into other products perhaps used by broad based consumers or farmers.
  All of my ideas are just that; ideas. I certainly don’t claim to know anymore than anyone else about these die-offs. I love reading everyone’s ideas and maybe someone who does know something about these animals dying will let the rest of us know soon. I hope so..

Posted by Wendifly on 1/12

Wendifly,

There has been speculation that the bird deaths may be attributable to Phosgene gas (and some of the injury descriptions seem consistent with exposure to the gas which would mimic blunt force trauma in soft tissue in some instances). 

Read about the gas here:

http://www.bt.cdc.gov/agent/phosgene/index.asp

Posted by IER on 1/12

IER Thanks for the link!

Posted by Wendifly on 1/12

It is not fair how so many people are taking the easy way out by saying thet this phenomenon has a rational explanation.  They may be right, but how can you prove this??  I wish people were more open minded.  Also, I have worked with wildlife for a number of years, and birds are not stupid.  They are survivors.  I wish people would give animals a little more credit.  If one person jumped off of a cliff, would 2,000 people follow?

Posted by venusian 6 on 1/12

Venusian - agree with your point, and am wondering if the “too-neat” explanations are manufactured to ensure Americans don’t become too involved, too alarmed, and too vocal about this issue.

Foreign news media is actually publishing full interviews with American officials that we’re not getting to see, and those full interviews are not flattering and suggest that human activity is the root cause in every single case.  Here’s an example:

http://www.news.com.au/breaking-news/romanian-birds-drank-themselves-to-death/story-e6frfku0-1225985964860?referrer=email&source=eDM_newspulse&emcmp=Newspulse&emchn=Newsletter&emlist=Member

The birds in question are members of the Icteridae family and though the die-off size isn’t as large as other locations, it was notable enough in size and time period for Romanian scientists to be concerned and look for the cause…which was human pollution, in that case (short article, fast read).

Swedish authorities noted a small die-off of Jackdaws, also Icteridae, and attributed it again to human adverse impact - the use of combustables (fireworks) - and again, from a non-USA news source:

http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2011/01/06/3107223.htm?section=justin

A Japanese media outlet actually published the FULL interview with American wildlife biologists - something the American outlets apparently would not initially do - indicating that again, human activities were at fault:

http://mdn.mainichi.jp/mdnnews/odd/news/20110104p2g00m0dm043000c.html

My points here are these: 

1) Journalists may not be able to publish their the information they are finding for various reasons, creating a selective information gap

2) There are multiple, related reasons now for the mass die-offs of birds and fish

3) Human activity is the likely problem, and it seems that there are efforts to “soften” that message because it may positively influence people to change their behaviour to help wildlife, and that may affect some corporation’s bottom line (it wouldn’t be the first time a corporation quashed negative information on their products to head off a drop in demand by consumers)

I obviously don’t know what happened to the different populations of birds around the world, but it seems to me that the “too-neat” explanation of the eNature article, claiming it’s “just another natural thing,” is misleading and inaccurate and humans had better start being open to accepting the responsibility for our collective actions by understanding and addressing just how adversely our actions are affecting other species and the environment to the extent that it apparently is.

Posted by IER on 1/13

U.S. Environmental Services workers had to wear hazmat suits and gas masks when they were picking up the 2000 dead birds in Beebe, Arkansas earlier this month?

To ‘concerned citizen’  the reason U.S. Environmental Services workers had to wear hazmat suits to pick up 2000 dead birds is to protect them from diseases possibly carried by the birds.

an interesting “fact check” - an interesting read.

http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2011/01/06/ap/tech/main7220470.shtml?tag=mncol;lst;1

For those that say..for shame for the government ‘allowing’ the pollution - can I remind you that the government is “US”?  It’s not some other unrelated faction that is behind todays current environmental problems.  We have all played a part, even by mere apathy, or an unwillingness to do without certain conveniences. 

just saying…

Posted by Patience on 1/13

Chronological presentation of the recent fish and bird kills
http://www.thejoyluckclub.com/Mass_Fish_and_Bird_Killing_2011.htm

Posted by Steve on 1/25

Don’t forget the die off of bats. They are dying in large numbers during hibernation from what apears to be a fungus. They are found dead with what looks like cotton substance under their nose.
http://www.unknowncountry.com/news/bats-dying-just-bees

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