January 11, 2011

The sky is falling: blackbirds, acorns, and horsemen


Some of the window collision
bird fatalities in Toronto alone
Recent doomsayers and news reporters would have us believe that the end is near. On New Year’s Eve red-winged blackbirds fell from the skies over Beebe, Arkansas by the thousands. While this mass kill is no doubt alarming this is no apocalypse. Though cause of death for these blackbirds is still unknown, the event itself is not totally unusual. Birds, bats, amphibians, and fish die in large groups from known and unknown reasons several times each month in the U.S. alone. Large-scale animal deaths are caused by disease, poisoning, weather, and collision and are tracked by the U.S. Geological Survey. While a visit to the USGS website may prove comforting to 2012 alarmists the reality is birds are dying in large numbers every month. USGS reports include staggering incidents such as: 3,000 Purple gallinule and American coots dead from avian cholera, 600 Lesser snow geese from lead poisoning, and 1,500 Brown pelicans off the Oregon and California coast from starvation.


Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Albrecht Dürer
The news media continues to play up the large and very public Arkansas’ death of roughly 3000 red-winged blackbirds meanwhile there is a far more sinister and deadly killer out there, a killer that resides right in front of our faces every day, find out more on the news at eleven... Sensationalism aside the true killer of close to a billion migratory birds in the U.S. each year is the glass windows that climb sky high from the sidewalks of cities and suburban developments across the country. Window collisions out pace death from oil spills, wind turbines, and cars as the top killer of birds in the United States. Cities across North America have started to take steps to reduce this number including the “Lights Out Campaign” which encourages downtown property owners to darken skyscrapers at night and more stringent planning codes.

While experts continue to research the exact cause of death in Arkansas it is safe to say that these blackbirds are not some pre-Apocalyptic exhalation of death. The media would be better served sounding the alarm where it's needed - loss of habitat, dependence on oil, generation of plastic waste, and pesticide use. Or let the doomsayers pay homage to the true horsemen of American migratory birds: transmission lines, cars, glass windows, and house cats. These far less frightening Apocalyptic riders are still a stark reminder that our presence on this earth has a direct, negative effect on the birds that breathe life into our world.


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is an educator, bird watcher, and writer fascinated by the intersections of place, people, nature, and culture. He works for Mass Audubon and lives in the heart of Massachusetts. For questions or comments please contact: alexanderjosephdunn@gmail.com

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