Whatever you may have heard recently from garishly-dressed prophets, the recent mass bird deaths are probably not a sign of God’s displeasure. (Even Kirk Cameron says so!) But are they really a coincidence? It’s true that mass deaths are not particularly uncommon, and there’s no real reason to believe the recent ones are directly connected. As explanations start to come to light, though, it becomes inescapably obvious that these events have something in common: Birds aren’t all that bright, and more to the point, humanity is awful.
Terror: The prevailing explanation for the blackbird deaths in Beebe, Ark., is that the birds were killed by fireworks. But not in the way that you or I would be killed by fireworks, i.e. the classic reliable Darwin Awards way. No, the birds could not handle how awesome fireworks are, and they just freaked out until they died, crashing into each other, houses, signs, power lines, etc. So maybe birds could stand to chill out a little bit, but also, making a giant noise and light in the middle of an area where, not too long ago, wildlife could have lived relatively undisturbed? You probably could not come up with a better “scare birds to death” plan if you tried. And who put those signs and houses there, I’d like to know?
Debauchery: Romanian residents who discovered dozens of dead starlings in their town this weekend worried the birds had succumbed to avian flu. Turns out they actually drank themselves to death. The starlings ate some winemaking leftovers and got alcohol poisoning. On the one hand, birds, you gotta know your limit. On the other hand, people, put your damn winemaking stuff away.
Nearsightedness: Okay, so this was back in March, but listen: A woman in England discovered a bunch of dead birds (starlings again) on her driveway and lawn. The wildlife group who looked into it determined that the birds had probably mistaken her shingled driveway for tall reeds, and dived straight into it while trying to escape a predator. I mean, is that the most poignant goddamn thing you ever heard? Here are some birds, they’re adapted to dive into reeds, they have brains the size of your nostril and are maybe not super-swift at learning new things, and then we build something right under them that looks like a bank of reeds but is hard and deadly. And we act surprised when a bunch of starlings become ex-starlings.
Your fault: The take-home message is this: The bird deaths may not have been causally connected — not a bird plague or divine wrath or even the result of climate change (although it’s certainly true that environmental weirdness messes with birds’ heads). But what they have in common is that birds are trying to live alongside some pretty terrible sharers. A staggering one in five bird species is facing extinction because of human meddling, which is grim even when they’re not dying in droves. Birds aren’t gonna get smarter, alas, so we’ll have to work on the mankind in the mirror.