Birds of a feather fall together

Birds falling from the skies and countless fish washing ashore, Caitriona Farrell asks what is happening to the world’s animals?Wherever the phrase ‘raining cats and dogs’ originated from, it was a long time ago. If you want to get with the times, you could simply say it’s raining birds. Different locations over the past month have experienced quite a strange kind of downpour, with a number of birds falling from the sky. Sufferers of ornithophobia, a fear of birds in regions of Arkansas, Sweden and Louisiana, may have been tested quite severely recently.The media has us all dumbfounded with these extraordinary findings. Some scientists claim that these incidents happen regularly, but that it is only on account of the recent media hype that people have begun paying attention to it.Research fellow in UCD’s School of Biology and Environmental Science Dr Gareth Dyke’s work is based on the evolutionary history of birds and their dinosaurian relatives. Dr Dyke tells The University Observer that he has in fact come across the phenomenon birds of falling from the skies “not in real life, but there are some examples in the fossil record of mass accumulations of fossil birds from all kinds of environments preserved in rocks deep out at sea, or in the middle of lakes. Mass death accumulations are rare, apparently, but must happen because we see evidence for them in the fossil record.”This certainly means that, while claims were made that fireworks influenced one of the cases over the past month, they obviously played no part in the occurrence centuries ago. Dr Dyke also explains how “these mass death accumulations are rare. Otherwise, they would not make the news.”One of the latest press releases from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission puts the cause of this bizarre occurrence down to abnormal, deafening sounds and the added disruption of fireworks in the area of Beebe.The statement reads as follows: “It appears unusually loud noises, reported shortly before the birds began to fall, and caused the birds to flush from a roost. Additional fireworks in the area may have forced the birds to fly at a lower altitude than normal and hit houses, vehicles, trees and other objects.” It goes on to add: “Blackbirds have poor night vision and typically do not fly at night.”Other preliminary testing by the US Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Health Centre in Madison has reasoned that the sudden blunt force trauma on New Year’s Eve caused the upset and deaths of the birds. Tests performed on the birds concluded that they suffered from internal haemorrhaging. Further tests are ongoing for a range of chemical toxins and infectious diseases, while pesticides tested have received negative results.Commencing at 11:30pm, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers have reported of blackbirds falling from the sky within a square mile area of Beebe. Before the ringing in of the New Year, some 5,000 birds had hit the ground, the majority dead and some still barely alive. The birds, dead or alive, littered the streets of Arkansas, creating a series of obstacles for drivers in the process.Furthermore, lifeless fish have been discovered washed ashore en masse. Crabs have also been the victims of this mysterious epidemic in other reported cases. Moreover, only 125 miles away from the bird case in Beebe, approximately 100,000 fish have been found floating lifelessly.Officials believed that “cold water stress” was the reason for these highly unusual deaths. However, some people are speculating that the Gulf of Mexico oil leak last April could have played its part despite vast amounts of chemicals used for its clean up.Avian flu may have been the epidemic here a few years ago, but let’s hope this bird fever does not proceed to infect humanity anytime soon.