Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Flying In The Night Under Enemy Sights

"I've just come back from Mississippi and over there when you talk about the West Bank they think you mean Arkansas."  -  Pat Buchannon

So by now most of you have heard about the blackbird deaths in Arkansas, Lousiana and Kentucky, as well as the massive fish kill that happened around the same time in Arkansas. Some people think its a sign of Armageddon, The Second Coming, the next Great Flood...and those people are Wrong. People don't think like that in Sweden, where a big flock of Jackdaws were just found grounded.

That said, there isn't one good really explanation for Arkansas' Blackbird Incident, and that's part of the reason the story intrigues people so much.

MSNBC has a good overview here (not my preferred news source, but at least its not FOX). We do know they flew into something, be it vehicles, powerlines, buildings, or eachother....they all died from physical trauma, after all. According to Audubon and other entities, it is actually not unusual for these big mass-deaths to occur, although I certainly don't know much about it and apparently no one else does. Maybe they were including deaths from diseases when they said that. Some ornithologist down there was quoted as saying "blackbirds don't see well at night", which sounds bizarre to many of our birds, blackbirds can migrate thousands of miles every spring and fall, and I highly doubt they wait for the sun to come up to do it. It makes no sense. Tell me if you think otherwise. At any rate...startled by fireworks seems like a plausible COD.

Aside from Arkansas, it is generally assumed the doomed Lousiana flock collided with powerlines and the fish kill was limited to one species, which makes it likely that it was caused by some disease, not directly from poison or pollution (although these things make it easier for diseases to take hold). At any rate, the fish were not startled by fireworks. These blackbird flocks could have been poisoned, but they would likely have died at a roost site, not all at once in midair. I don't think any toxicology tests have been made public yet though.

Is this all a big coincidence? Is it really random that we are hearing about all this mass bird death at the same time? Well....yes. You know the nature of the media right? It gets people all worked up about one particular thing, then a couple weeks later, completely forgets about it. You won't be hearing anything about these bird deaths in a couple weeks. And typically, they don't even address The Real Problem.

A Red-eyed Vireo taken down by a wind turbine. Rockwood, PA.

What it comes down to is that millions of birds die every year in the United States alone from colliding with man-made structures. They have evolved to have the night be dark, using the stars and reflection off water to help them navigate. They did not evolve with giant glowing lights everywhere, wind turbines slicing through the mist, skyscrapers extending hundreds or thousands of feet into the air, and they don't deal with them well. Many are somehow attracted to the lights, and like moths to a flame, have their lives burn out in a flash when they collide with a window, antenna pole, or what have you. Some big cities are slowly being awakened to this fact and are beginning to leave some skyscraper lights off at night, which not only saves birds but conserves energy as well. Its a no-brainer.

Around the world, thousands of birds meet their maker this way every day, usually beyond the sleeping eye of the media, so we don't hear much about it. Now you know.


  1. Dammit, Steve. I do not appreciate this post (but it needs to be said, since most people are ignorant to these things). I've been all worked up all day and thanks a bunch for almost making me take an elbow strike to my computer...whhahhat? no seriously. This is a good post and I hope the stupidass media takes these things into account (though they won't...). Your vireo pic made me cry a little bit, I really hate turbines. F'ing bird (and bat) blenders.Goodbye now.

  2. 1. The only thing I bought for Christmas to give to folks is WindowAlert window decals ( 'cause they are see through for us, but reflect UV for birds so they're obvious to birds. So even picky folks can make their windows non-lethal.
    2. I used to LOVE those mirrored looking building that reflected the blue sky, etc. Gorgeous. Then learned the disproportionate # of birds they killed, now I consider them irresponsible.
    3. My chickens cannot see for crap at night/dusk. I suspect migrating at night is different as they fly higher (than, say, trying to land in a tree in the dark), above obstructions. My theory.
    4. Yes, probably coincidence, unless each town was blasting fireworks that same night that scared the crap out of the birds.
    Thanks for addressing this. Nice to hear a voice of reason vs. journalists who, in my first hand experience, ALWAYS try to make an event more dramatic than it is. ALWAYS. =)

  3. This is a bummer of a post. Lucky for me birds hate my yard for the most part and I've never had anything close to a casualty due to my windows.

  4. Hey Seagull Steve.

    Saw your post over at Mission Mission on that heron and thought you might enjoy this set of shots I got of a coopers hawk getting down on some pigeon breakfast in my driveway near 24th street.

  5. @Jill - Life is pain. Im sorry.
    @BB - Ooh, UV stickers? Thats new to me, cool. I would not trust chickens to have very good eyesight compared to any bird, but youre probably right about flying high vs through trees and neighborhoods.
    @Jen - When I worked in AZ last spring, my crew called me The Bummer. True Story.
    @Anonymous - Sweeeeeet! Gotta love it when wildlife puts in an appearance in the Mission.