Blackbird Die-off and Voodoo Science

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) migration, Louisiana

Red-winged Blackbird (Agelaius phoeniceus) migration, Louisiana - Jan. 1, 2011

A significant reason I only work on long-term projects is perspective.  When you are there longer than a week or two you begin to see swings in mood, culture, people, wildlife, the seasons.  You begin to feel the pulse of normal versus momentary blips,  media bias and hyperbole.

The last week of 2010, Red-winged Blackbirds(Agelaius phoeniceus) plummeted from the sky – the only fact we knew at the time.  What remains fascinating to me is how fast we are to jump on voodoo and conspiracy theories and how reticent we are to consider real science.  Red-winged Blackbirds fall out of the sky and immediately the EPA arrives with hazmat suits and the roulette wheel of wild death theories spins out of control – the science illiterate, mainstream media of course fostering scenarios.  On the other hand, BP dumps millions of gallons of a known toxin into the food-chain of the Gulf and the American public is told and blindly assumes seafood from there is safe to eat?  While the same mainstream media proclaims the problem is over-hyped after initially hyper-hyping it.

“Even very plausible explanations did not allay the suspicion that something sinister must be going on. Why? Because we’re human. Our minds have evolved to look for patterns, and causative agents. In fact, some thinkers argue that this turn of mind, which evolved as a survival mechanism, ended up predisposing humans to believe in a deity, because when we can’t find a natural cause for an apparent pattern or event, we posit a supernatural one. Certainly it predisposed us to look for an interesting culprit for the bird die-offs.” – New York Times

Last week I was photographing in SW Louisiana and came across enormous flocks of Red-winged Blackbirds, a passerine bird found in wetlands and nearby farm fields throughout most of North and much of Central America.  Then news emerged from Arkansas, shortly a die-off in Louisiana near where I shot the above image of Red-wingeds.

This week the folks at the Madison Wildlife Health Center (Wisconsin) determined the Red-winged Blackbirds died of ‘blunt trauma’.

Bird samples from the Arkansas Red-winged die-off, and other blackbirds from a separate mass die-off near where I was in Louisiana, were brought to the MWHC, a little-known lab in Madison for necropsies.

“They died of impact force to their bodies,” according to Scott Wright, chief of disease investigations at the center.  More about the mystery: Madison lab solves mystery of Arkansas bird die-off.

Had anyone dug a bit deeper right out of the gate they would have found mass die-offs are not voodoo or mysterious witchcraft, they’re historical fact.  We have a lot of science to explain them.

Back on the beaches and in the bayous of the Gulf, BP oil continues to roll ashore and no one knows where the toxin Corexit is working its deadly deed.  We need a lot more science, more science in our schools so we each are more informed, and turn off the mainstream media until they return to real journalism.

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