Five Species More Interesting than Blackbirds
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, 2012. Or 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.