Why did a murmuration of yellow-headed blackbirds crash from the sky?

Why did a murmuration of yellow-headed blackbirds crash from the sky?



A flock of hundreds of yellow-headed blackbirds crashed on a Chihuahua neighborhood on February 7th. Hundreds of bird carcasses littered the streets, and security camera footage of the collision quickly went viral. The world, on the other hand, now has more questions than answers.

The internet has been inundated with hypotheses about what caused the disaster. Some speculated that it was caused by excessive amounts of pollution in the air, while others suggested that 5G technology was to blame.

Dr. Richard Broughton, an ecologist of the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, has a much more plausible explanation.  Although he could not see a raptor in the security camera footage, he is almost sure it was caused by a predatory bird.

“This looks like a raptor like a peregrine or hawk has been chasing a flock, like they do with murmurating starlings, and they have crashed as the flock was forced low,” he told the Guardian. “You can see that they act like a wave at the beginning, as if they are being flushed from above.”

“Blackbirds form tight flocks, called a ‘murmuration,’ that swirls in the sky to try and confuse the falcon so it cannot pick a target,” Broughton said.

Predatory birds will often dive straight into a flock to break up the murmuration and single out a target. It is most likely that this was the reason for this strange crash.

Andrew Farnsworth, senior research associate at The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, noted that if the footage time stamp of 7:42 p.m. is correct, the birds were likely leaving their nocturnal roost.

Farnsworth also adds another theory into the mix. He suggests that a loud noise could have spooked the birds, as this has happened with other species of birds.

It is extremely rare for a murmuration of birds to crash in such numbers like this. These yellow-headed blackbirds are migratory birds that primarily live in the western and prairie wetlands of North America. In the winter months, they form large groups, which is what we saw in the footage.

No matter the reason for the crash, it was a sad day for this yellow-headed blackbird flock.

This article by Hailey Kanowski was first published by OneGreenPlanet on 25 February 2022. Lead Image Source : Albert Beukhof/Shutterstock.


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