Ever since 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell out of the Arkansas sky at the start of this year, the media has been abuzz with more stories of mass animal death. The story has been a favorite of those who want to proclaim that the world is ending, or to say that it is all part of some giant conspiracy.
The most recent mass bird death, of 200 starlings in Yankton, South Dakota, came with something unusual: an explanation. The United States Department of Agriculture admitted to having trapped and poisoned the birds, in an effort to stop their defecating in a nearby Nebraska farm’s feed meal. The birds were endangering the health of the farm animals as well as the people who work there, and, down the line, the people who would later come into contact with the farm’s products. The USDA admitted to having poisoned an estimated 2,000 birds, but so far only 10 percent of that number have been found.
This news calls into question the fervor surrounding the other bird deaths. Is the United States government responsible for more deaths that we don’t know about? Are all of the explanations this simple? And is it really that big of a deal?
Experts say that these mass bird deaths happen more often than we think, and we are only just now hearing about them because of an apocalyptic media trend. There are many things that can kill large quantities of birds. Here are a few.
Poison: Pesticides like the one used in Nebraska, though not always actually intended to kill birds, kill 72 million birds a year in the United States.
Flying into things: One of the popular explanations for the recent mysterious deaths, this is actually a major hazard for birds living and flying in an increasingly urban environment.
Cats: They may not be mysterious mass killers, but cats kill hundreds of millions of birds every year.