You may have seen the ominous viral video in which a large flock of blackbirds plummets from the sky in the city of Chihuahua in Northern Mexico. This unsettling video has made thee rounds across the internet worldwide and has alarmed viewers and inspired countless theories. The birds in the clip are Yellow-headed Blackbirds. They are commonly seen in large flocks that move in unison. These clouds of synchronized birds are known as murmurations.
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5G, Fumes, or a Nasty Flu?
The viral clip shows an entire flock of these vibrant blackbirds crashing onto the road and sidewalk. Many of the birds can be seen taking to the sky again, though some of these were likely injured by their fall. Unfortunately, when those who are able leave the scene, the remaining bodies prove that this crash landing was fatal for many.
Unsettled by the abrupt and almost biblical sight, viewers began to float theories that ranged from plausible to fantastical. Initially, a local veterinarian suggested that the birds had been affected by toxic fumes, perhaps from a mechanical failure in some nearby machinery, or perhaps from a general issue with air pollution. Other theories included electrocution from a nearby power line, poisoning, illness, and even 5G radio waves; the misinformation involving 5G affecting birds has been addressed by the Audubon society and is believed to be completely false.
The Likely Answer
What is now considered to be the most likely explanation for this avian whodunnit mystery is actually quite pedestrian. Scientists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology have stated that this incident was probably the fault of a predator inciting panic amongst the flock and driving them dangerously close to the ground.
The murmuration behavior that blackbirds exhibit is key to understanding how one predator could cause so much damage. Murmurations of birds are often brought about by predators. Aerial predators such as Peregrine Falcons approach and startle the flock causing them to respond in unison.
The question of how these formations are so synchronized is still a subject of study, however it is believed that these birds do not follow a single leader. Instead, birds coordinate their movements based on the birds in front of them or nearest to them. When a predator strikes, birds must balance an awareness of their surroundings with the need to be completely in tune with the flock. Moving out of synch is a surefire way to become a straggler and an excellent target for the striking falcon.
So how does this explain the graphic viral video? The Yellow-headed Blackbirds in this video were moving downwards in a large group. According to the Cornell Lab’s scientists, all it would have taken to cause this is an unlucky miscalculation by a few of the blackbirds. When fleeing the predator, a few birds may have found themselves much closer to the ground then they realized.
While moving at such high speeds, stopping on a dime is hardly an option. If just a few birds made this fatal mistake, the birds next to them, relying on the safety of the flock to avoid the predator, may have trusted their neighbors’ movements to guide them. The sudden downward motion of the flock supports this theory, as the birds look like they are fleeing a threat above them.
Although this answer is unlikely to halt the tide of anxious theorizing that often follows an incident like this, it is comforting to consider that this most likely means that this was an isolated incident.
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