Experts ease concerns over mass bird deaths

Experts believe the mass bird deaths probably stemmed from an external factor that caused panic or stress among the birds.

January 16, 2011, Sunday/ 13:29:00

The recent discovery of dozens of dead birds in the northwestern province of Bursa has raised concerns among locals as to whether instances of mass bird deaths have now reached Turkey, but experts believe that what is going on is not unusual nor is it linked to any “mysterious” imminent disaster.

For most experts, mass bird deaths are common when birds are under heavy stress and can be triggered by bad weather conditions and disease.

Çağan Şekercioğlu, an assistant professor in the department of biology at the University of Utah, said mass bird deaths are frequently seen in many parts of the world and should not be a cause for panic. However, he complained that interest shown by the media in the recent incidence of deaths has incorrectly created the impression that this is the first time ever that birds have died en masse, thus needlessly causing public alarm.

“In the US at least 34,520 birds were reported dead in 124 separate instances of mass deaths during 2010 alone. In other words, mass bird deaths occurred on average every three days. Birds make up the leading category of mass deaths among wildlife species,” Şekercioğlu said in a statement he sent to Sunday’s Zaman.

It all started when around 5,000 blackbirds (agelaius phoeniceus) and starlings were found dead in the streets of Beebe, in the US state of Arkansas, earlier this month. Then, nearly 500 birds rained down from the skies in Louisiana. Other instances of mass bird deaths were then reported in Sweden, Japan, Thailand and Brazil. More recently, dozens of starlings were found dead in the Karacabey district of Bursa province on Monday. The mysterious deaths have spurred many to speculate on whether they were caused by a looming epidemic, secret government weapons testing or even aliens.

However, this is not the case, according to experts, who believe storms, fireworks or poisoning could be the real reason behind the deaths of the birds.

Şekercioğlu believes the mass bird deaths in the US probably stemmed from an external factor that caused panic or stress among the birds. “The bodies of the birds had some traces of bleeding and there were fractures on the front sides of their wings. This discovery makes one think that the birds were frightened by a sudden noise while sleeping and hit nearby buildings or electrical wires when they started to fly around in panic. The collisions killed the birds. What scared the birds could have been the fireworks set off on New Year’s Eve,” he said.

Şekercioğlu said thousands of birds die en masse every year due to hunger, pesticides, poisoning, weather conditions -- including hail, storms and lightning -- disease and collisions with buildings, electrical wires, towers or wind turbines.

The dead birds are currently being examined by experts in each of the relevant countries.

“World media, which once ignored mass deaths of many animal species, is now focused on bird deaths and is reporting every instance. People are naturally seeking an explanation to the deaths and are trying to attribute to them a single reason, but these may have been caused by multiple, unrelated reasons. People sometimes ignore scientific data and try to draw a connection between the deaths and supernatural causes,” Şekercioğlu added.

Professor Nilüfer Aytuğ from Uludağ University’s department of veterinary medicine told the İhlas news agency that mass bird deaths in Turkey are not indicators of an imminent “disaster.” She said birds are sensitive animals and tend to die if they feel under stress or panic due to various external factors. She added that it would not be possible to make a definitive statement about the real cause behind the mass deaths of birds in Turkey until the scientific examinations of the dead birds are concluded.

The dead birds are currently being examined to see whether they may have been killed by bacteria or a virus, or whether there may have been another cause behind the mass deaths.

“People have started to question whether the bird deaths en masse worldwide are indicators of some imminent disaster. I see a huge amount of groundless speculation about the deaths on the Internet. However, it isn’t right to discuss an issue without sound information. I suppose the Internet has become more dangerous this way. Rumors on the Internet can make an issue more serious than it is,” Aytuğ noted.

The professor denied claims that the bird deaths may be an indicator of an approaching epidemic or earthquake.

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