Why are all the birds dying?

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Over the last few days, there have been several reports of mass die-offs of birds, and one report of a fish die-off. These events have been linked, via suggestion but not evidence, to hail, lightning, fireworks, aircraft, aliens, each other, poison gases, and even pockets of oxygen free air. Many have suggested that there may be a cover up. What is the explanation for so many highly unlikely events happening in such a short time period?

The answer may astound you:


According to available records, close to a hundred mass die-offs of birds occur each year in the US. The recent events in Arkansas and Louisiana are being looked into by the government agency that does that, but most likely they will be found typical.

Most die-off events do not make it into the news. But, for some reason, the Arkansas die-off did, and this apparently prompted some sleepy newsroom in Louisiana to bother to report a die-off there, and that happened just after a fish die-off back in Arkansas was also reported. With these three events being discussed on the news and cycled through blogs and facebook postings, a sort of Vortex of Rhetoric formed sucking all other reports of dead birds into it, and turning out a widespread belief in a pattern: The birds were falling from the sky, all over the world (as it turned out, based on … reports), in increasing numbers, like never seen since the days when Pharaoh was getting heavily bitch-slapped by God Himself Almighty.

But about a hundred of these events occur per year, so really, having two bird die-offs in one week in the US would be average. There is no evidence that there is an increase in bird die-offs.

The ‘fact’ that there may be a cover up is, of course, going to keep this story going for a while as people start to connect the dots and add together numbers like one and one to get three. Every bird die-off will have a chemical plant, military base, fuel depot, or something within five hundred or a thousand miles, and where there are no such facilities there are always the trusty UFOs which, because they can fly, can be anywhere. I look forward to watching that circus.

Having said that, I don’t care if the bird die-offs in Arkansas and Louisiana were, in a sense, expected (statistically speaking). They are still interesting. Well, those particular die-offs may or may not be interesting but in general the phenomenon is very interesting, and begs the question: “What happens to all those birds anyway? If every pair of birds raises between three and five offspring a year … where do they all go?”

I’ve addressed this question before on a smaller scale. I had been watching a 150 or so ducklings of three different species grow to maturity up at the lake. They were not all in one place most of the time, but a dozen or so pairs of this or that duck each had some ducklings. Over time some of the adults disappeared and others formed creches, which is a very ducky thing to do and often extends across species boundaries. I never did a formal count, but every single week the number of ducklings went visibly down. By the end of the season, some 20 adults had produced some 30 or 40 young adults. Eighty percent of the cute little duckings were … gone.

So I did some research to find out where they all went. Of course, we can’t really tell. My fantasy was that they were being eaten by the monster tiger muskie that I had almost caught a couple of times but always got away (yes, I have fantasies about baby ducklings being eaten by big huge fish … I’m working on a lure). I also considered the possibility that they were being taken one or two at time by some small carnivores. There are otters, minks, ermines, and fishers in the vicinity. Of them, I guessed the minks and ermines to be the most likely to feed on baby ducks (or adults, for that matter). These ducklings lived under the watchful eye of a single great blue heron, a pair of eagles with a one year old offspring, a barred owl, a pair of kingfishers, a small murder of crows, a pair of rather defensive loons, and an itinerant cooper’s hawk. I’m not listing the animals I know to be in the region. I’m talking about the animals that live in the forest around the bay, many of whom spend considerable time staring at each other and occasionally interacting. Those things have to eat some thing, and these ducklings are … well, they are things. And probably easy to catch.

When I read up on causes of demise of ducklings, though, I found out that the most common cause of their death is probably the same thing that gets a lot of other birds: Thermal demise. They die of hypothermia during the night having not eaten enough the day before. For whatever reason, including being harassed by some carnivores, but more likely intraspecific competition for shallow weedy things or little fishy things, some of the duckling have bad luck (or bad genes?) all day long and go to their ducky beds at night having not consumed enough to keep their endothermic systems going until morning. Maybe they do that once and survive in a weakened state, and that makes it more likely to happen the next day, then they die. That one little duckling that seems to be straggling behind the others today is tomorrows detritus.

Which brings us to the next point: If 150 ducks turn to 40 in 9 weeks, where are the bodies? How come we don’t see the occasional duckling corpse splashing around in the mini-surf lapping at the shore of the bay? Perhaps that’s where the fish come in! Perhaps they sink to the bottom. But more likely (because they do float, after all) we do see them along the shore of the bay. They are just part of the flotsom, mainly consisting of bits and pieces of reed or other plants, that is accumulated by wave action along certain parts of the shoreline. The stuff you step over when you walk into the lake to swim, that gets more noticeable when the maw of the bay is in the fetch of the weather instead of the lee and everything floats to shore. Indeed, when I see extra yech building up along the shore, I know the fishing will be better than average, because it tells me the bait fish have blown into shallow water, and with them the game fish.

But I digress.

Mass bird death is probably something like that but on the level of the flock. A flock is a large number of birds often of similar age, who have spent time in roughly the same region, and thus all had the same good year or the same bad year. The flock then spends weeks in exactly the same habitat, as they are traveling together. And, they are traveling, which adds stress. They need to fly to a place with food, and although we see them as, perhaps, landing in a place with lots of food for them, there are still hundreds, thousands, or even tens of thousands of the birds in that one spot competing for food. So, one day they land in a place with a less than ideal food supply, and some of the flock go to roost hungry. The next day, those weakened feed even more poorly. Then, there is a cold turn of weather or some other meteorological event that stresses the entire flock and that 10 percent that had done poorly for two days in a row crashes. Literally, perhaps.

Or, a disease spreads through the flock and the weakened die.

A flock is sufficiently homogeneous but at the same time possesses some variation that it may be very likely for dozens or hundreds of birds to die off at a time. And when they do that near a reporter …

It would be interesting if the end off the world was near. Well, I assume it would be interesting. But the recently reported mass deaths of thousands of birds does not signal it.

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59 thoughts on “Why are all the birds dying?

  1. Thank you SO much. My grandmother was all like “it’s a government alien conspiracy no explanation yadda yadda yadda” and after reading this I said “it was hypothermia” and she said “Oh. That makes sense.”

  2. Thanks, Greg. Enlightening and sensical, but unlikely to be the “interesting” answer many people want and thus not as likely to get reported in the news.

  3. the reason we don’t usually see expected die offs is because they don’t do it in mid air due to exploded hearts and blood clots :0/
    They die off naturally for this reason or that, and are folded into natures system of recycling [waste not want not]
    They do so in their nests, near their homes or winter roosts if they travel. They don’t drop out of the sky by the thousands over a square mile.
    Just like the fish, it may happen, but typically not everywhere all at once…and usually the birds are diggin it, but, as happened on the east coast, those birds didn’t want any part of those fish. hmmm.
    I would remiss if I did not say tsk tsk, btw; you left out the global fish/shellfish/crustacean millions and millions/Amazon reptile etc kills all over the friggin globe.
    I don’t believe in profuse or gaudy coincidence…but you go ahead…lol.

  4. On one hot summer day I was fishing in an area with a lot of ducks. A mother duck with a string of ducklings behind her was swimming by and then, with a high chirping peep of distress, one of the ducklings was pulled down by a large alligator snapping turtle. The whole thing didn’t take a second. Blink and you miss it.

    Lots of animals loves them some baby bird.

  5. Art: Cool. According to what I read, snapping turtles almost never eat ducks or ducklings, but mainly fish. But now and there there is this reasonably well documented case of a snapping turtle that seems to eat ALL of the ducks. I wonder if they develop specializations.

    Annje: They do so in their nests, near their homes or winter roosts if they travel. They don’t drop out of the sky by the thousands over a square mile.

    I’m sure that the vast majority of individual birds die as you describe and not as part of mass deaths. But, nonetheless, there are about a hundred mass deaths …. where all the ducks on one lake die in one day (happened here in Minnesota recently) or five hundred migrating birds fall out of the sky at once, or my favorite (this was in Alaska): All the grebes on a lake get frozen in place, then foxes eat their bodies and their wings all blow to one side of the lake thus creating a potential mass death fossil bone assemblage (that one was studied by the Smithsonian years back).

  6. Thank you for hosting a blog like this Greg. I learn a lot.

    Speaking of Grebes, El Nino years seem to be hard on them as well.

    Living things die. We all know it. It still sucks
    I think news consumers (ok, all of us) really identify when little animals die. Then add to that, IT MIGHT BE ARMAGEDDON!

    Your services are much appreciated.

  7. The dead birds tested so far all seem to have internal injuries. No one is yet sure why/how. One theory is that these birds may have been swept up in one of the massive blizzards which have hit the USA during what must now be the worst December on record – certainly it’s the hardest and coldest December on record here in UK these last 100 years.

  8. There could also be a low nitric oxide connection. Low NO means fewer mitochondria, which means existing mitochondria are pushed to higher potentials which increases slip and results in decreased metabolic efficiency. This would exacerbate the food problem that Greg mentions. If it takes 10% more food to stay alive, that is going to have an impact on survival.

    This could be affecting bats too.

  9. I agree with Glenn Beck. These sudden die-offs are the result of Elohim’s displeasure with homosexuals, illegal aliens and law enforcement’s cavalier attitude toward making Lindsey Lohan pay the price of her sinful lifestyle. It CAN’T be the End Times, because the only bird-related mass die off in the Bible is the unfortunate quail event in Numbers.

  10. Yea and I bet magnetic north changes all the time too and it closes airports every year. Nor does it explain the fact a comet will be in the sky in 2012. Didnâ??t I hear something big would be in the sky in 2012 before? I know they changed the name and the dark star turned into a dark comet called Comet Elenin discovered on Dec 10, 2010 and will be here by Aug of this year. That wouldnâ??t have anything to do with all the dead critters. I bet when people drop dead this guy will be here saying it happens all the time nothing to see here folks. LOL

  11. I also can confirm snapping turtles taking ducks (well, it tried). An adult male Mallard in a small flock going up the river by my campsite in Algonquin Park (Ontario) suddenly disappeared under the water. It popped up a couple of seconds later and flapped onto shore.

    I ran down and found the duck alive, but with a long vertical slash in its abdomen and the intestines trailing behind it. I chopped off its head (mercy killing) and the headless body laboriously turned 180 degrees and began dragging itself back towards the water. That was just plain creepy and that night I kept the campfire going a bit longer than usual before retiring to make sure those little rustling sounds weren’t from a dead duck dragging its body across the sand, seeking vengeance.

    Regarding bird deaths, I figured once the first mass death was reported, then everyone would be out looking for and reporting on other mass deaths. Sort of like when truck tires were coming off. First big report was on tires that killed a motorist. For the next month after that, there were daily reports in the papers about truck tires coming lose and dinging cars as if all truck tires were undergoing a widespread coordinated failure as if it was a new phenomenon.

  12. Some years back the Washington Post did a nice article on a guy at Interior who rescued local wildlife, and put them wherever they might make it. He rescued a sizable turtle that looked like it had been hit by a car near the C&O Canal in Georgetown — a little fiberglass on the cracked shell, and the thing was given a home in one of the fountains around D.C. that the guy had saved from algae by stocking with water plants and some smaller critters, a natural cleaning system . . .

    He told the story of one of those duck mothers who got caught in traffic defending her brood. He relocated the family to a pond near Constitution Garden.

    Then he got the frantic call from the Secretary’s office. He rushed to the pond in time to figure out that some bass he’d rescued earlier was making a multi-course meal of the ducklings as mom led them around the pond, apparently oblivious herself, but to the loud anguish of dozens of gathered tourists.

    It’s a wild world out there, red in tooth and claw, the poet said. Or ripe with dinner, depending on which end of the tooth and claw you happen to be.

  13. According to my dad (AR dept of health)

    They reached a conclusion on the birds; panic, fly, tree, BONK!

    Reminds me of the “Summer of the Shark Attacks!!!” 2002? Shark attacks were normal, or even a bit below normal, but the first one happened on a slow news say, so the cables picked it up. After that they made the most of very single shark attack all summer long.

  14. @Yvonne: Yeah, you’re right. Not many people would embrace that. Mental illness isn’t very popular.

    “Many would love it to be some logical scientific explanation”? That’s great – as if the people who actually check these things out and research real causes are the ones engaging in wishful thinking, instead of the one touting the fairytale written before anyone thought of putting yeast in bread. Comedy gold.

  15. Oh how I would have hoped for Alien Involvement as that would certainly make our lives so much less drab and more exciting. HOWEVER there is a reason why thousands of birds would die at once in flight and plummet to the ground. The included possible explanations are like mother telling child that thunder is just the angels bowling!
    We do not know the answer to this particular sudden group die off, but that does not mean there is not a very specific answer. This needs further investigation.

    Actually Aegis there are enough types of wild yeast floating around, especially in bakeries, that most bread does not need us to add yeast. Too much yeast in bread that gets discarded, actually causes the birds that eat it to suddenly die off and plummet to the ground! Eureka!

  16. Thanks for doing some background research on this. It really does remind me (as @Rich mentioned) of the “Summer of the Shark” kerfuffle a few years back. A bunch of unrelated things that people read too far into, and blow out of proportion because our monkey-minds aren’t built to deal with a news-system where information from locations all around the world gets paraded in front of us.

    And of course, like with politics, once someone’s made up their mind, there is no changing it with facts. People have decided that the source of the die offs is supernatural or otherwise unexplainable by science, so even when science does offer an explanation, it’s rejected out of hand.

  17. (yes, I have fantasies about baby ducklings being eaten by big huge fish … I’m working on a lure)

    live bait will out produce artificial in most cases. 🙂

  18. Just because it happens 100 times a year does not mean its not time to investigate thoroughly why it hapens. We may get some enlightening answers to various questions. And I am yery sceptical that like in Arkansas THOUSANDS of birds fell from the sky – hapens every year and 100,000 fish found dead in river near that massive birds die off place. If we start thinking that it is normal cause it hapens every year we are not going to be normal anymore. Live does not end without a reason , especialy thousands of lives simultaniously. This is definietely NOT NORMAL. I dont give a wooden nickel what you say – it is still not normal and very alarming!!

  19. SLAWEK: in 2010, globally but the vast majority in the US where there is much more observation and reporting, looking only at events with 1000 or more estimated dead, there were death events for birds with the following numbers of dead (in order chronologically throughout the year: 1922, 1380, 1000, 3000, 20000, 1440, 2150, 1`000, 10000, 10000, 1537, 3000

    That was a typical year, this is a typical year.

  20. I am with you SLAWEK..THERE IS A REASON FOR EVERYTHING..just because we do not know what it is, does not mean we should just accept it. Typical does not mean normal.

  21. I am surprised you failed to mention the North Pole shift. You actually foresaw this happening in your comments to an article back in Feb 2009. Why no mention? Strange.

  22. Here is your quote from the comments section from an article posted 2/09 entitled something like “Are earths magnetic poles reversing?”

    “One interesting question is what happens to oganisms, especially birds, that use the magnetic signal to orient for long distance migrations or other navigation. It is probably true that some birds rely heavily on the magnetic field, and literally would get lost. This might include birds like loons, where the new brood of a given year find their way to their wintering grounds without the benefit of adults (the adults head out weeks earlier). In most cases, migrating birds probably use a set of different inputs possibly including sun position, prior learning (map building) etc.

    Presumably adjustments are made during periods of excursion, but one would think that rapid shifts would cause a certain amount of disruption and confusion, and maybe a bit of unnatural selection ….

    Posted by: Greg Laden | February 5, 2009 7:54 PM

  23. Deb, not strange at all. I just don’t think it is relevant. The current movements of the pole is not really that unusual, and since it is mostly moving north (and not west or west too much) I don’t see it as a factor for birds in Arkansas.

    Having said that, it may be worth considering, but what is the mechanism here? I was speaking of a reversal, not a minor shift.

  24. Could there be any connection between birds , fish and massive bees deaths (or are bees only disappering?). Do bees too , have some mechanism like magnetic navigation system ? Kind of hard to think about birds and fish dying of poison (only one kind of fish and birds) or because of magnetic turbulence. It seems like cruise missile hiting a clear target or there is no connection between birds , fish and bees. We need some kind of Sherlock Holmes or at least this kind of thinking to solve this puzle. But it is worthwile I belive. There might be something very unusual that could help in solving other mysterious things happening

  25. I’m wondering if they’ve tested the blood alcohol content of the dead birds.
    I used to live next door to a woman who had a huge amount of fruit trees in her yard. She would store the excess fruit in a large box next to her house, where the fruit would ferment. I think it was meant to be a compost bin, but it didn’t quite work that way.
    I’m in Australia, we get enormous flocks of cockatoos in rural areas, and the flock that regularly roosted outside our house must have been around 200 strong. An entire flock of drunk cockatoos is a very funny thing to see, but they do tend to try to fly with only one wing, and they also tend to run into trees and each other.
    It’s not inconceivable that these birds have been feeding on fermented produce and simply smacked into each other mid flight.

  26. Kristine: That happens! But I’m guessing no for Arkansas at this time of year. Unless they hit a liquor store, this time of year in that habitat there would be very little chance of fermented fruit.

    Maybe the ones in Louisiana, though…

  27. Many birds have a mechanism to reset their magnetic compass using polorized light usually at dawn or dusk. Magnetic pole shifts are unlikely to be a factor. Because birds can fly and change direction rapidly, they can tolerate rapid changes in magnetic fields.

    They do fly in pretty large flocks, and if their flocking mechanism got out of whack, maybe they would collide. Hypothermia or low energy status might tend to make it go out of whack. The collisions could affect healthy birds too.

    Maybe there is an aspect of flocking behavior to “weed out” the marginal members of the flock via a collision-type mechanism. This might reduce transmission of disease and cull the flock when food availability is marginal. Since flocking behavior is a group-type selection process for protection from predators, it is conceivable it could also involve group-type selection to protect from disease and low food availability.

  28. You might want to ease up on the Tofu or whatever else is worrying your indigestion. This has to be one of the most content free posts yet.

  29. Opit is a well known conspiracy theorist who probably has a dog in this race and does not want to see anyone speaking rational truth, thus the dig.

  30. From what I’m getting, the problem (such as we perceive it to be a problem) is that lots of animals just aren’t that resilient and spontaneously die en masse on a fairly regular basis, and it’s only just now that anyone’s drawing attention to it because the news has been slow.

    Interesting to know, seems to be common knowledge among biologists.

  31. It’s my belief that its government weapon testing. I cannot and will not trust government after 9/11. I fear my own government over any would be terrorist. Anyone that believes government cannot do no harm are naive, and blindly follow what they are told is truth without keeping an open mind to reality.

    If mass die offs are a common thing, why is it getting all this attention now? Maybe to troll religious nut jobs for the end of days? Perhaps propaganda to push a green agenda and raise the price of fuel? I can see many reasons media and government want to keep fear alive.

  32. Greg,

    Good job of keeping the wool pulled over the earthlings’ eyes. You will be rewarded.

    – Your Alien Overlords


  33. gee, GL, do you work for the government? Your bedside manner is so soothing. “Move along folks. Nothing to see here. Everything is under control. Everything is normal.”

    Yes, we’ve all seen or heard about birds killed by cars, predators, poisoned croplands. And, sure, spooked birds will fly willy nilly into the night. They’re not totally blind in the dark, though.

    But their internal injuries suggest head-on collisions. So out in the open prairies thousands of birds are running into what? Tall trees on treeless plains? Convoys of very big trucks? Maybe they’re flying into the ground when their navigation systems are jammed.

    Besides, the fact that mass deaths have happened before does not mean that those events had perfectly natural causes.

  34. Maybe I’m being naive here, but if these birds died in flight, mightn’t the explanation for the internal injuries be the fact that they, you know, fell out of the sky? Can the autopsies here distinguish between pre- and post-mortem physical trauma? Has anyone called David Caruso?

  35. That’s one of the first things I thought of. Like, duh, of course there is going to be trauma if they fell out of the sky. It makes me wonder about those sudden cloud burst things that have actually destroyed people’s houses? That could knock them out of the sky. I find it interetsting and would like to know the cause if it were possible to find out. To the guy who claims all this is judgement..what’s with the illegal aliens comment? What, God himself cares that much about national borders? Big news- the U.S. is NOT the new Israel/promised land. I’f you are biblically inclined, why aren’t you feeding the poor and sharing the gospel with them? Get real. And for those of you waiting for the aliens to come down and tell us everything- it aint gonna happen. And if it does, I’d be begging God to keep me from being decieved because that stuff is demonic. Notice how people who are into aliens are looking to them for salvation (idolatry) or terribly afraid of them (foil helmets) and obsessed with a government connection? The bible says “Fear Not.” I like that. God bless!

  36. You know, your “explanations” about the birds dying of starvation or hypothermia or a weakened state may explain why some birds die off, and also why some may die off near the same time, it does not explain, however, how hundreds of birds from the same flock simply drop out of the sky.

    What surprises me is that no one seems to mention that the obvious “reason” for the die-offs in mid-flight isn’t firecrackers and isn’t lightening but simply gas. Methane, in particular. Clouds of methane are common, they can belch up from lake beds, etc, and roll down hills to kill entire villages overnight. The methane levels in our atmosphere are beyond what scientists used to believe was even “livable” on a planet. Is it any surprise that these birds are hitting methane concentrations that suffocate them and they drop TOGETHER out of the sky? I think it’s rather logical and obvious.

    We know that one of the toxic substances that was released during BP’s gulf disaster was METHANE. So it’s not surprising. Plus there are maps showing the recent mass bird kills (falling from the sky in a small area) and it goes up the coast and over to Great Britain just as the gulf stream flows.

    The other gaseous explanation is the MASSIVE amounts of corexit that BP so irresponsibly blanketed the gulf with to hide the evidence of their stupidity and irresponsibility.

    The really alarming thing is why all of our “brilliant” scientist fail to mention this. Therein lies the conspiracy.

  37. Amy: Nice Poe. What my readers won’t know unless I tell them is that you are spam. I deleted the URL to the online gambling site that came along with your comment.

    But I let the comment through because I think it is interesting that a very good imitation of flaming nuts conspiracy theory is being used to get people to go to a gambling site. Makes sense.

  38. just to comment on the predators when I worke dat a National wild life refuge I come to find that racoons were our biggest problem as they could get in and out of the trap the ducks could only get in.

  39. Anon, good point. Up at the cabin we see relatively few racoons. Too many bears. But there are lots of them in the vicinity as attested to by road kills, but those are usually nearer farmlands.

  40. The dead birds tested so far all seem to have internal injuries. No one is yet sure why/how. One theory is that these birds may have been swept up in one of the massive blizzards which have hit the USA during what must now be the worst December on record – certainly it’s the hardest and coldest December on record here in UK these last 100 years.

  41. We think that the birds may be sick but that is not the case. Most of the birds that we see diminishing these days are mainly due to human beings who carelessly take up things that would damage other living beings.

  42. I just saw the report on over 300 birds dying in Yankto, SD. The dept of agriculture said that they sprayed poison 10 miles away to thin their population. How come no birds have been found in the area they sprayed? Pretty convenient explanantion for something that has no signs of these birds in this area, did they spray in La and Ark also, what about Australia who has also reported the same issues.

  43. Interesting reading. Conspiracy theorists won’t be content unless it’s proved to be a government/alien conspiracy. Fundamentalists won’t be content unless it’s proved that God killed the birds becaused he’s angry? at homosexuals and illegal aliens. It happened. Period. And to the fundamentalists, God is Love,so please remember the two most important commands: Love God first and everybody else second; even homosexuals and illegal aliens (and even Glenn Beck). Love who you “think” is unlovable. There may never be a clear answer as to the bird/fish dilemma but that shouldn’t stop us from loving each other and being kind in thought and deed to each other. It’s so profoudly simple. Thanks for the insightful reading……

  44. Reports are saying that a top American scientist was murdered so he could not blow the whistle on the American military for using hazardous gas over arkensaw which may have killed the birds. either way the public will never know the truth because the American government will cover it up.

  45. fireworks? really? we have fireworks every year in most cities for new years and july 4th and even some smaller holidays and yet for some reason this killed hundreds of thousands of birds this time? if fireworks were to blame we’d see mass bird death every time we had firework displays. i have no idea what’s causing this but if you believe that cnn is reporting the truth you are really naive.

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