Are recent reports of thousands of dead birds falling from the sky in southern states causing any concern in Michiana?
Evie Kirkwood, director of the St. Joseph County Parks Department, said she has been fielding calls from concerned residents who believe there are fewer birds around their feeders this season.
She said part of the reason for such reports are breaks in the weather this area has experienced and the lack of snow coverage on the ground, making it possible for birds to find their own food source rather than being feeder dependent.
Other than that, she said, there’s been nothing unusual this season. But if residents find dead birds in or around their feeders, it could be caused by an unsanitary feeder that may have been contaminated with a contagious disease.
According to Kirkwood, red-winged blackbirds, which were among the dead birds found in the south, are migratory birds that don’t typically spend the winter in our region. But they are "plentiful in our area" and will begin to reappear in late February during mating season.
In addition to red-winged blackbirds, grackles and brownheaded cowbirds also were found in the dead flocks. Kirkwood said this isn’t unusual because the species are known to migrate together.
Once those birds return to Michiana, she said, they tend to live in solitude, protecting their territory while awaiting their mate.
Diane Kuhl, a waterfowl and shorebird rehabilitator in northern Indiana, said she dealt with "a minor episode of duck plague" among some of her birds last year.
Kuhl has been rehabilitating birds for 27 years, and said this was the first time she ever encountered this problem.
Luckily, she said, she lost fewer than a dozen birds during the outbreak of the virus, noting it could have been far worse.
"I can’t say there is a correlation there," she said of the duck plague she experienced and the falling dead birds in the south.
At a rehabilitators meeting in Indianapolis last month, Kuhl said, there were no reports of anything "horrendous going on."
As to what caused dead birds to fall from the sky, Kuhl expects test results to be final soon, and then experts can figure out what the problem was and deal with it.
"It’s something really off the radar," she believes.
In Niles, Wendy Jones, head naturalist at Fernwood Botanical Garden and Nature Preserve, said visitors have come up with their own hypothesis of what happened down south, including "the birds hit each other after getting scared from noise (of the fireworks).
But Jones believes this theory is highly unlikely because birds are used to flying in flocks.
Her guess is that the birds got into some kind of poison, resulting in the same effect to all of them at the same time.
As far as the theory about the birds getting killed by a bolt of lightning, she believes that explanation isn’t very plausible either.
Poison as a cause of death is not uncommon, according to Linda Byer, Department of Natural Resources district wildlife biologist for north central Indiana.
"Poison bating" is a method often used to prevent birds from becoming pests in factories and other industrial areas, she said.
Byer said she received a report today that 25 dead crows had been found in Indianapolis by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The crows are being sent to the Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory at Purdue University.
But other than that, Byer said, no reports of anything similar to what happened in the south have surfaced.
And as far as the "Aflockalypse" conspiracies, Kuhl laughed.
"That’s probably as likely as anything else people are spouting."