Minnesota’s ‘aflockalypse’

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What caused the recent mass deaths of birds? The answer may be found in Worthington, Minnesota more than 100 years ago. It was there in March 1904, an estimated 750,000 Lapland Longspurs died on the mean streets, fields and lakes of Nobles County.

The aflockalypse is detailed in a 1907 article — A Lapland Larkspur Tragedy — in the Journal of Ornithology:

A Mr. Drobeck reported that on the morning following the

storm he noticed lumps or balls of snow on the roof o f his barn and

that when they thawed in the morning sun, they were found to

contain live birds. The heads of the birds would first appear, and

then, shaking off the snow, they would sit for a time in the sun

drying and preening themselves and then fly off. He caught

several and took them in the house and it was two of these birds

that Dr. Dart saw in his window garden a week later. This curious

statement was corroborated by a second observer. Evidently the

birds had become wet and snow-laden and falling into the sticky

snow had by their efforts rolled themselves in to snow-balls.

Dr. Manson and Dr. Humlston, two physicians of Worthington, gave their testimony along the same lines as above. The former added that he noticed that many of the birds had entered the snoxv head foremost as though they had pitched down head-long rather

than as though they had fluttered down as they probably would have done after striking some obstacle. When these birds were picked out of the snow it was found that the snow was stained with blood that had oozed from their mouths.

Lovely, indeed.

Worthington’s electric streets lights were initially suspected, but birds were dropping in nearby Slayton, too. There were only gas lamplights in Slayton, where every family in the town had gathered at least three dozen still-live birds.

Dead birds were also found in Luverne, Lakefield, and Pipestone.

Why? The author says all of the birds had impact injuries, leading to the theory that while migrating from Iowa north, they got confused by some snow, and then were attracted by the lights of the town.Some hit objects, some were weighted by the snow, and some just dropped dead from exhaustion. (Read the entire article here)

Fast forward to 2011. What’s going on? The DiscoBlog at Discover.com takes a crack at it:


Causes ranging from UFOs, monsters (our personal favorite), fireworks, secret military testing, poison, shifting magnetic fields, and odd weather formations have been blamed for the deaths, but researchers are saying these types of die-offs are normal. It’s simply a coincidence that a few big ones happened right around the new year-and once the global media started paying attention to wildlife mortality, we saw examples everywhere.

In other words: It happens all the time.

But it might be an intergalactic death ray.

  • JackU

    This is one of those things where the simplest answer is most likely the correct answer.

    Of course that doesn’t make the story very compelling so you can be sure some Prime Time drama will come up with an episode based on one of the more bizarre options. (Of course there will be a murder involved. Or maybe just an accidental death by falling avian. To bad the X-Files isn’t still around it would be a natural for them.)

  • Twiddle

    I like the intergalactic death ray theory myself.