About 5,000 red-winged blackbirds rained down from the skies in Arkansas late on Dec. 31, 2010, most of which were dead or dying. A few days later, a similar event happened in Louisiana, involving some 500 red-winged blackbirds. Some people would say hundreds — and certainly thousands — of birds falling from the sky must be very unusual. Not as much as you might think. A representative from the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center said over the last three decades, there have been 16 incidents where more than 1,000 red-winged blackbirds simultaneously died, falling from the sky like rain [source: NBC News]. What's going on?
In both of the cases mentioned, the birds showed signs of acute trauma. The Louisiana birds were found near a power line; experts say the creatures may have been ill or startled, flew into the power line, then plunged to their deaths. In the Arkansas case, the birds were deemed to have died midair. Since it was New Year's Eve and fireworks were exploding in the skies, the theory is that the birds were startled and panicked, flying into homes, cars, each other and even straight into the ground [source: NBC News].
Why red-winged blackbirds in both cases? They're one of the most common bird species in the U.S., with some 200 million in residence. They also fly in close proximity to one another and have poor eyesight [source: NBC News].