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.