The Birds And The Bees

Filed in Science and Health by on January 5, 2011

Lately the news channels have turned into the dead bird monitoring channels. A rather freaky massive bird kill occurred in Arkansas and almost at the same time a massive fish kill occurs (the areas are 125 miles apart). Then we hear about a second mass bird kill event in Louisiana. So to explain these strange events, CNN decides to go to the expert.

Thousands of dead birds and fish littered Arkansas this week. Some people on the internet think it’s a sign of the apocalypse. It therefore makes good sense to interview Kirk Cameron about the bird deaths in the southern state, because the born again Christian actor was the star in a religious-thriller that was briefly released in theaters ten years ago.

Yes, of course. If there is a localized bird die-off in Arkansas, Kirk Cameron is the guy to talk to. He’s probably better looking than a real expert. Meanwhile, some news organizations actually talked to someone who may know what they’re talking about.

Morning Edition co-host Steve Inskeep spoke with David Goad, chief of the widlife management division of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission and Mark Oliver, chief of the commission’s Fisheries Division.

Oliver said that in other cases where the “die-off” involved mainly one species of fish, “normally it’s some kind of bacterial or viral infection”:

As for the birds, Goad said that “had it been a disease, there would have been a pile of birds” under their roost site. “That wasn’t the case, they were fairly scattered across that landscape.”

So, he said, “something traumatic” probably scared the birds — a storm or fireworks. They would have taken off, and many likely flew into each other and into objects such as tree limbs.

Even though it’s an odd occurrence, the mass bird die-off was not something unexplainable. The necropsies revealed that the birds died of blunt force trauma, consistent with the explanation that they had been scared and panicked.

Apparently the news media decided that people are very interested in mass bird die-offs so they reported on a separate event that happened in Louisiana two days after the Arkansas incident. This incident was unrelated to the first incident and had a different cause:

It isn’t easy being a blackbird in the South.

First, New Year’s Eve fireworks were blamed in central Arkansas for making thousands of blackbirds confused, crashing into homes, cars and each other. Then 300 miles to the south in Louisiana, power lines likely killed about 450 birds, littering a highway near Baton Rouge.

It’s almost certainly a coincidence the events happened within days of each other, Louisiana’s state wildlife veterinarian Jim LaCour said Tuesday. “I haven’t found anything to link the two at this point.”

Mass bird deaths aren’t uncommon. The U.S. Geological Service’s website listed about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12. There were five deaths of at least 1,000 birds, with the largest near Houston, Minn., where parasite infestations killed about 4,000 water birds between Sept. 6 and Nov. 26.

So, at least we learned something, so perhaps it was all worthwhile. I just wish all media events were learning experiences. Meanwhile, a very important story on the fate of honeybees, which are responsible for pollinating 96% of our crops, was published. Apparently the mass bee die-off doesn’t seem as apocalyptic so it doesn’t get nearly the media attention. The results look grim.

Within the past 20 years abundances of the bee species Bombus occidentalis, B. affinis, B. pensylvanicus, and B. terricola have plummeted by up to 96 percent. (Related: “Mystery Bee Disappearances Sweeping U.S.”)

The finding is based on a new analysis of more than 73,000 museum collections of bumblebees, which showed where bees had been found over the last century, as well as collections of wild bees across the United States. The study looked at 8 of the 50 known bumblebee species in North America. (Get bumblebee wallpaper.)

“We found that yes, indeed, [these four species] are seriously declining, but there are some other species doing very well,” said study co-author Sydney Cameron of the University of Illinois’ department of entomology.

One possibility is that the four species in crisis may all be infected with the invasive Nosema bombi fungus, which was found in greater quantities on the dying bumblebees than on relatively healthy species studied by Cameron’s team.

Basically, we still don’t know what’s happening with the bees (science is sometimes slower than we like) but we’re making progress. Hopefully it won’t be too late for these bee species.

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Comments (23)

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  1. Jason330 says:

    It is a wonder that CNN could not manage to work Grover Norquist into the story. Sloppy. Heads should roll.

  2. pandora says:

    In that video, Kirk Cameron came off more sensible than Cooper. Cooper was obviously looking for something sensational. He failed.

  3. MJ says:

    It’s all Pat Robertson’s fault. Ever since he said that pot should be decriminalized, we’ve gone to Hell in a handbasket.

  4. fightingbluehen says:

    I always blame the government first. They are guilty until proven innocent in my mind…lol

  5. anon says:

    LOL… Cameron put Cooper in his place real quick: “I’m not the go-to guy for religious conspiracy theories…” and then moved on to the real reason he agreed to do the interview: to promote his new movie.

    Cameron did come off more sensible, but remember he is an actor. I did get the sense that if the interview had gone on for another two minutes Cameron would have been unable to suppress some completely irrational nonsense.

  6. RSmitty says:

    UI –

    On the bees, we are one of the areas hit by the disappearance of honey bees. That’s been discussed for a couple of years in the NJ. I recall, but am too lazy (and busy) to look it up right now, that there was an article or broadcast story that local bee keepers saw a trend…a small one…indicating a possible reversal in the die-off, this past season. While it was nothing to celebrate for success, it was a glimmer, which was desperately needed, no matter how small. FWIW, where I am, east of Odessa (there supposedly is one or two large-scale bee keepers in this area, but I have no idea who or where they are), you can easily look back and notice with your own eyes that the honey bees did indeed dramatically drop off in ’07-’09 (compared to ’05-’06). There definitely were some more later in summer ’10 buzzing around our veggie garden and the surrounding annuals. Not a lot, but more than the previous few years. It was shortly after I realized the increase in numbers when I either heard or read the story about the possible come back.

  7. anon says:

    “something traumatic” probably scared the birds — a storm or fireworks. They would have taken off, and many likely flew into each other and into objects such as tree limbs.

    Ah, I see – the birds were Democrats.

    A congress of crows, perhaps?

  8. liberalgeek says:

    Actually, it would be great if the birds were “The Chosen People” and that was actually the rapture. Feel free to take everything from their nests.

  9. Jason330 says:

    Q: Why did the evangelical actor go down with the ship? A: he could not stand to leave his mate’s behind. *Rimshot*. Thank you, I’ll be here all week. Tip your waitress she is working hard.

  10. anon says:

    I think after this interview Anderson must have locked himself into his dressing room for a short while.

  11. RSmitty says:

    Who is “liberalgeek?”

    ‘Geek – sorry, but your hope can’t happen…that date is 05/21/2011.

  12. kerry says:

    i been around 68 years and you are not going to tell me its normal or that its happend many times before. because it did not. and what about the fish. which was tested and found no sickness killd them. the birds was sleeping in the trees. i supose sweedon had fireworks to. right?.. it was found the birds was hit hard by a external object. in order to scare the birds enought to fly at night it had to be somthing extra specail that scared them. i saw birds siting in a tree while watching fireworks at play land one night. no. somthing that cant be explained logicaly scared the birds. and hit tem. whats up there in back countrys.. just air. nuthing else.

  13. liberalgeek says:

    somthing that cant be explained logicaly scared the birds. and hit tem.

    mission accomplished!

  14. RSmitty says:

    Well, time to sell the belongings, May 21st is coming!

    There is also the consideration about the water temps for the fish kills. Were they juvenile fish or fish that can’t handle large swings in water temp, let alone temps that get to or near freezing? When that nasty-as-hell front swept through and ripped the area to shreds, there was also a kerplunking of the temps and the water temps went with it, relatively speaking, of course.

    As far as not happening before, consider the instant news cycles we have now and that the media LOVES to jump on the more collosal. Deep within a couple of the articles are wildlife officials talking about other large-skill kill-offs that happen more frequently than many realize, but don’t make the news for whatever reason. Basically, they were bemoaning that the media is playing up thoughts of armegeddon (“…give us dirty laundry…”).

  15. liberalgeek says:

    Perhaps the birds beat themselves up trying to eat the frozen fish…

  16. kerry says:

    two sdays ago.. thousands of dead birds in a square mile area of ark. one day ago. same thing but in louweez. i cant spell that state. same day yesterday. same thing happend with birds in sweedon. yesterday. thousanfss of drum fish dead in ark. today. millions of dead fish in a bay off maryland. .. the birds was scared out of there trees. now who goes around scareing red wings thousands of them and in a one square mile area. which meenswhat ever happend had to be quick. how many minuts does it take a few thousand red wings to fly a mile when scared. do you see the point now?.. somthing is up.

  17. meatball says:

    I for one welcome our new extraterrestrial overlords.

  18. meatball says:

    What is obvious is that our government is trying to cover these events up. For instace, they claim that these bird and fish kills are relatively common and yet I had to spend >15 seconds employing the inernets to ha ck into the USGS site that investigates and publishes these thing. Here is the link for your review (don’t tell anyone).

  19. anon says:

    Hmmm.. take another look at the data in your link meatball… almost all the mortality events are caused by diseases that kill over weeks or months.

    What makes the Arkansas bird event so unusual is that the birds dropped from the sky in a small area. The only thing close to that is the 75 bats killed by… gunshot. If the bird kill was caused by a natural event, it will likely be some cause that is not currently on that list.

  20. meatball says:

    The list at USGS only goes back one year. The record of mass die offs goes back a little farther then that, even predating the creation of g-d.

  21. kerry says:

    look at this google map. you may have to wait about a minut for google to load the baloons.. blue baloons in the map show the latest and past mass animal kill

    then look at the weather pattern from usa to europe

  22. kerry says:

    the birds that fell from the sky in sweedon.. sweedon says the birds was hit by a external object. guess what that object is.. the ground when they fell. so its a act of god or somone or some people are poisaning the air. what about it efecting people??.. maybe what ever it is is lighter then air. another thing… when this began.. somone sead they was scared from the trees. fireworks??? yeah right like fireworks all over the world. in each location it happend.. how did that somone in cnn news know they was scared from the trees. people know but not talking.. i think they was sprayed with somthing to test a bio wepon. with this does anyone got a better one.