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Five Species More Interesting than Blackbirds

January 11, 2011

By now you’ve probably heard about the mass die-offs of drumfish and red-winged blackbirds in Arkansas and Louisiana earlier this month, as well as a dozen or so other incidents like them.  Here on this blog, we’re not going to talk about these species.

This isn’t to say the mass die offs in Arkansas and Louisiana aren’t newsworthy, they are.  I guess.  If it’s a slow news day.  Which it probably was on New Year’s Day.  I applaud most news outlets for sticking to scientifically verifiable facts instead of connecting the incidents to stories about  the end of days on October 21, 2011 or December 21, 2012Or UFOs.  Or whatever.

However, the drumfish is a fairly common fish that is good for sport fishermen and not much else, and the red-winged blackbird is one of the most common birds in North America.  The fish likely died of a disease that doesn’t seem widespread, even among drum in the Arkansas River and the best guess as to why the birds died seems to be from panic over a loud noise heard just before the birds started hitting the ground. 

Update – Thanks April for posting an update from the USGS National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin. They have confirmed that the blackbird deaths were caused by blunt force trauma.  Speculation is that loud noises from New Year’s Eve festivities caused the birds to panic and fly at night.  Since the birds don’t see well in the dark, they likely smacked into each other, tree limbs, buildings and all kinds of other hard surfaces, damaging their bodies and killing themselves.  Sad and traumatic if the dead bird happens to end up on your lawn, but as the USGS points out, not uncommon.

These mass die-offs don’t illustrate a larger problem (except for maybe the curious tendencies of the media) because they don’t involve major public policy or environmental health concerns.

As other bloggers are starting to point out, there are much more serious population declines that deserve as much or more media attention as “aflockalypse.”  Here on Tiny Science I will profile five species whose recent population declines are very serious and deserve our attention now.  We’ll start tomorrow with colony collapse disorder and the importance of the honeybee to world agriculture.

  1. April permalink

    The USGS confirmed Monday that the birds in Arkansas and Louisiana were killed by impact trauma, saying that they probably freaked out when they heard a loud noise and then flew into things like houses and trees. They also point out that this isn’t the largest bird die-off (in 2009 Avian botulism killed 50,000 in Utah and another 20,000 in Idaho) and that 188 “mortality events” involving 1000 or more birds have occured in this country in the last decade.

  2. Kaleigh permalink

    Hey, interestingly enough, my friend just sent me a link about this exact topic the other day:

    It pretty much seconds what April said and talks about how mass die-offs happen regularly, and we should really be way more concerned about the species that are growing closer to extinction than relatively common species dying.

    • Thanks for the great links ladies!

      This was kind of a rushed post. I didn’t get as much time to research as I normally like and I may not have done a very good job getting the point across that these aren’t the mass deaths we should be worried about. These definitely help!

  3. Skate permalink

    sooo where are these lovely profiles 😛 I see whatsits 😛

    • The readership is getting restless! 😀

      A bout of wheezing and sneezing this weekend convinced me the house was in serious need of cleaning, so I did that this weekend instead of researching colony collapse disorder. Darn life and its getting in the way of quality blogging. Its coming, I promise. The papers are downloaded and half read, just have to finish!

  4. Skate permalink

    This is fair. *bows* carry on…

    • Skate permalink

      oops… that should have been a reply. Fail.

      • Yes, because there are SO many comments on this blog someone could get confused. Hee hee.

  5. It’s onerous to seek out educated folks on this topic, but you sound like you understand what you’re talking about! Thanks

  6. An interesting dialogue is value comment. I believe that you must write extra on this topic, it won’t be a taboo subject however typically individuals are not sufficient to speak on such topics. To the next. Cheers

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