Five thousand dead blackbirds rained from the sky on the first day of the New Year in Arkansas. Then more dead birds fell in other states. Then huge fish kills were discovered in multiple US waterways. And suddenly it became a worldwide phenomenon, with reports of mass die-offs of birds and fish in Sweden, Britain, Japan, Thailand, Brazil and beyond. Blogs connected the deadly dots, joking about the “aflockalypse” while others saw real signs of something sinister, either biblical or environmental. Religious bloggers loaded their sites with Bible verse, Hosea 4:1-3: “The land dries up, and all who live in it waste away; the beasts of the field, the birds in the sky and the fish in the sea are swept away.”
Wildlife disease specialists say the die-offs can be caused by disease or pollution, but at other times the cause remains a mystery. Dr Scott Wright of the USGS said that, with the cases in Arkansas, some sort of human activity could have “forced the birds off their night-time roost, which is abnormal for these species”. “We know from witness accounts that lots of folks heard very loud noises, repeatedly, noises on the order of something like commercial fireworks,” he said. “These same folks saw birds…flying low across the ground and smashing into their homes and cars and mailboxes and so forth.” Dr John Fischer, Director of the university’s Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study said all the birds seem to have suffered the same fate of “blunt force trauma”, caused by flying into large, inanimate objects.