Aflockalypse Now: Mass bird deaths caused by human negligence
We’ve left a wave of destruction, endangerment and extinction in our wake; affecting our planet on a disproportionately disastrous scale. Unless we start focussing on a more sustainable style of existence, we’re sure to be the cause of our own mass deaths soon.
Australia has had a terrifying and heartbreaking incident of birds dropping dead from the sky. On July 12, dozens of corellas were found falling out of the sky in Adelaide after what is now presumed to be a poisoning. Animal rescuers responded to calls of more than 60 dead birds. The incident occurred in the vicinity of a primary school.
Corellas are of two kinds - the long billed corella, which is a protected species in South Australia, and the short billed corella. Bodies of both were found, but of the 60 bodies, 57 were of the protected species. What’s interesting to note is that the short billed species are far more common and sometimes viewed as pests. The local council had even called for them to be culled, as they were blamed for causing damage to crops, and for chewing on street lights.
The first responder on the scene was a volunteer from Casper’s Bird Rescue. The founder of the organisation, Sarah King, said the volunteer carer called her upon arriving at the scene. "I got a phone call from that carer quite distressed saying they are literally everywhere falling out of the trees, falling out of the sky," she told ABC Adelaide. "The scene looked like a horror movie." She also mentioned that on first glance, it seems that the poison used was extremely inhumane. She said, “It’s not an instant death. It causes suffering. It takes a few weeks for it to work. It starts internally and they have internal bleeding. It is a horrific, slow death. The birds that have been affected are the protected species of the long-bill corella. It is an important fact to get out there. Of the 60-odd that we found, only three were the non-protected species. This isn’t the way to deal with anything. It’s also against the law.” ABC Adelaide also spoke to one of the veterinarians who cared for the birds, Trudy Seidel. She was quoted as saying that it is more than likely that the birds have been poisoned.
This isn’t the first instance of a mass bird death. These phenomena, called Die-offs, can occur due to any number of reasons. Natural causes like storms, hail, lightning, and tornadoes can cause a fall in bird population in a particular area. Human intervention through fireworks, power lines, and automotive collisions is also a cause.
In 1976, in the Baltic Sea, 60,000 ducks died after landing on an oil slick at sea. The ducks landed on the immobilising oil, believing it to be a patch of calm water.
On January 1, 2011, around 5000 birds fell out of the sky in Arkansas, in the United States. There was no discernible cause for the deaths. The same happened to around 100 jackdaws in Sweden around the same time, and 500 dead birds were discovered in Louisiana. Dubbed the ‘A-flock-alypse’ at the time, it generated some internet hysteria about whether this could be a sign of the end of the world.
A spokesman of the Nairobi-based UN Environment Program (UNEP) stated at the time, “Science is still struggling to explain these things. These are examples of the surprises nature can still bring”. Speculation at the time stated that the bird death in Arkansas could have been sparked by the birds being spooked by New Years fireworks. Startled, they could have flown together, fast, into a building. These birds roost in vast numbers and have poor eyesight, so this is definitely a possibility.
We saw another incident of a mass death as recent as February 2019. More than 20,000 dead guillemots washed up on Dutch beaches between January and February of this year. All the birds showed signs of protracted starvation, and the phenomenon occurred throughout the Dutch coastline. The cause of this is unidentified till date, but speculation enters on a spill from a container ship, the MSC Zoe. The ship was caught in a storm, and about 350 containers fell into the sea. A huge variety of plastic and electronic items started washing up on Dutch beaches following the spill. A bag of peroxide was also found, and speculation says that this could be the smoking gun.
Bird deaths clearly aren’t the only wreckage caused by human activity on Earth. We’ve left a wave of destruction, endangerment and extinction in our wake; affecting our planet on a disproportionately disastrous scale. Unless we start focussing on a more sustainable style of existence, we’re sure to be the cause of our own mass deaths soon.