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It’s Raining Birds in New Jersey

In the agricultural community of Stow Creek Township, New Jersey, everything seemed normal in the build-up to Thanksgiving. There was nothing unusual about the weather which was mostly sunny and a little chilly. Then there was an unexpected shower. As many as 200 red-winged blackbirds fell out of the sky and their bodies littered the ground. There was no obvious reason for the strange episode which took place two days before Thanksgiving.

Second Unexpected Shower

The birds appeared to have simply fallen from the sky and it was the second event of its kind in less than a month. In the first incident just 20 or so dead birds had been discovered but now there were hundreds. The local residents alerted the authorities and some of the bodies were removed for analysis. Unfortunately, the results of the tests were inconclusive.

No Probable Cause

Tests revealed that the dead birds had suffered trauma from hitting the ground but did not provide the reason for them dropping from the sky so dramatically. It was felt that the birds’ demise must be due to the chemicals used by farmers and so wheat seed from nearby fields was sent for testing at the University of Pennsylvania. The farmer concerned reported that the fungicides and pesticides used on his fields were not compounds which were considered to be hazardous to birds.

Protecting Crops

Farmers in the region can and do use chemicals to protect their crops from birds. However, they must use compounds which do not damage crops, contaminate livestock feed, effect endangered species or create groundwater hazards. The red-winged blackbird is not an endangered species and so does not enjoy any protection. But, there was no indication that the birds which fell from the sky had been poisoned by agricultural chemicals. Indeed, this was an unlikely cause as the deaths were so localised.

There was no sign of infectious disease in the birds either and so the cause of the incident remains a mystery. This is very worrying for people in the region who would like to know what really happened.

Raining Birds and Fish

It is unusual but not unheard of for animals to fall from the sky in large numbers. In 1998, approximately 10,000 birds, all Lapland longspurs, rained down and died on fields in Minnesota and Iowa. They had become disoriented in a snowstorm. Even fish can sometimes fall in unexpected places if they are caught up in tornados. In 2010, several striped bass ended up in a Massachusetts backyard which was about 20 miles from the sea!

In 2012, blackbirds fell from the sky in Millville, New Jersey. It was later found that a local farmer had legally used a chemical to keep blackbirds away from his crop. About 300 birds were reported dead in this incident. Perhaps the latest shower was caused by agricultural chemicals but no trace of any hazardous chemicals has been found in the birds. A case for Jonathan Creek perhaps!


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