Bird droppings: Mass death in Maryland sparks speculation

Hundreds of dead birds on I-95 in Laurel

Hundreds of birds just dropped from the sky and landed onto I-95 Wednesday, bringing afternoon rush hour traffic to a crawl.

They were common Starlings, and while there were a few in the grass and on the shoulders of the highway, the vast majority landed right on the northbound travel lanes in Laurel.

Some suspect something sinister.

“Environmental hazards, toxins in the air and in the environment maybe,” a person said.

Maryland Department of Natural Resources biologist Peter Bedel believes the Starlings flew into a truck. He does not suspect any disease and is sending samples to a lab just in case.

Laurel resident Dan Kennedy said something weird happened nearby a week or two ago.

“A bunch of birds flying into a parking lot and diving in thinking its water,” Kennedy said. “A bunch of birds died.”

Some are linking the deaths to similar incidents elsewhere.

“Down in Alabama or Mississippi something like that where a whole bunch of birds just died and fell out of the sky,” said Richmond resident Doug Morris.

Tip: Fortean Times

Photo: Brad Bell/WJLA

A few interesting things to point out in this story. I’m skeptical about the “hundreds” number. People tend to exaggerate these things. Starlings fly in flocks, decending upon trees and lawns in groups of about 50. Did they all hit a truck? Possibly. Is it environmental? Possibly – starlings are sometimes poisoned by farmers because they eat the feed stocks and trash. But this is rare and the idea that they all fell in one place is odd. So, it sounds more traumatic.

It’s also pointed out that birds, in groups that act like a unit, have accidents like mistaking pavement for water. It’s not uncommon.

The idea of linking to other events is typical for humans to do. Mr. Morris who was recalling a similar event in “Alabama or Mississippi” was remembering January 2011 when there was a flood of reports on mass animal deaths including a large flock of red-winged blackbirds that perished (the “Aflockalypse”) when scared from their night roost by New Year’s Eve fireworks.

Here is more on those events when they happened last January.

Stay tuned to my web column “Sounds Sciencey” for an upcoming story on this topic.

And follow me on Twitter @idoubtit.

  3 comments for “Bird droppings: Mass death in Maryland sparks speculation

  1. Brian Gregory
    February 17, 2012 at 2:38 PM

    This is right around the corner from where I live, a section of I-95 that I drive frequently. While I didn’t see this incident, I have observed some extremely large flocks of starlings (well, larger and more persistent than I can ever remember seeing in this area), to the point that there is an intersection near Ft. Mead that I avoid because the amount of bird poo that rains down on my car.

    Perhaps it’s a population explosion? It seems to me that an overpopulation of birds might make it more likely for a large flock to follow each other straight into a truck.

    Of course, this is all speculation on my part.

  2. Susan S
    February 25, 2012 at 4:11 PM

    The USDA recently admitted to a long time program of mass poisonings of birds. It’s called operation bye bye blackbird and while it’s not hidden news it’s been sufficiently quashed in the mainstream media so that the majority of the population does not know about it. That’s probably what happened to here. Type “bye bye blackbird usda” into any search engine.

  3. February 25, 2012 at 10:55 PM

    I am familiar with that activity. But that does not explain how they ended up on the highway. Besides, it is VERY risky to do that now considering other animals may consume the birds. That said, a local resident told me that this is not far from USDA field facilities so… questions remain. Until testing comes in.

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