There are many things that you can expect on New Year’s Eve. Dick Clark, confetti and the ball drop are just a few. However, nearly 5,000 falling blackbirds isn’t usually in the mix. For Arkansas residents this was a shocking addition to their celebration.
Nearly 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell to the ground on New Year’s Eve in an Arkansas suburb. Shocking images of the dead birds quickly scattered the internet. The alarming occurrence quickly sparked biblical and environmental conspiracy theories.
Did fireworks cause this bizarre event?
The government quickly released statements that New Year’s fireworks were the cause of the mass death. The statement had the public scratching their heads with confusion, further putting a media spotlight on the situation. Adding to the frenzy, 100,000 fish were found dead just 125 miles west of the area where the birds fell days later. The government concluded that the two incidents were completely unrelated.
Is it 2012 Already?
The blogosphere was quick to add to the controversy by classifying the event as the ‘Aflockalypse’. Biblical conspiracy interpreted the event as a sign for the Mayan prophecy of the world ending. Fueled by the perhaps premature government statement, some questioned the government’s role in the mass death.
How common are mass die-offs?
Although mass bird and fish deaths are tragic and significant environmental events, they are not uncommon. Federal records show that they occur on average every other day in North America. The Associate Press reported that instant communications may be the factor that is making the event memorable.
“Instant communications – especially when people can whip out smart phones to take pictures of critter carcasses and then post them on the internet – is giving a skewed view of what is happening in the environment,” stated Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson.
Wilson also told the Associated Press that there is a sad irony behind all of the media attention. Mass die-offs – usually of animals with larger populations – create media frenzies while a larger but slower mass extinction of species because of human activity is ignored.
What role did the media play?
The media focus on the conspiracy aspect of the event was so strong that it prompted PR Daily News to ask, “What is more terrifying? The mass bird deaths or the media’s coverage of the bizarre incidents?”
Perhaps the most unlikely Avian expert to emerge out of the controversy was former child star Kirk Cameron. Cameron, who is outspoken about his religious beliefs was interviewed by Anderson Cooper regarding the bird and fish deaths. Even Cameron seemed reluctant to apply religion to the topic stating, “Call a veterinarian.”
Most recently, the government has concluded that blunt force trauma was the cause of the die-off. Such injuries could be inflicted by telephone wires, transformers or planes.
However, one question still remains – What really caused the ‘Aflockalypse?” Blunt force trauma or media agenda-setting?