dead birds and fish mean OMG the end of the world! Or, not.

Posted on: Fri, 01/07/2011 - 12:11 By: Tom Swiss

People panic as in a matter of weeks, large numbers of dead birds are found in Texas, Austrailia, and Russia, and hundreds of thousands of dead fish are found in California.

Whoops! Sorry, had the Guardian of Forever showing me the wrong year. That was 2007. This year, it's dead birds in Italy, Sweden, Kentucky, Arkansas, and Louisiana, and dead fish in Maryland and dead crabs in England

Mass bird and fish kills are not unprecedented. This is the third year in a row for the English crabs, while the Maryland Department of Environment counts 2,900 mass fish kills between 1984 and 2009. Forteans have have collecting stories of birds falling from the sky for decades.

It's certainly possible -- though I have no evidence either way -- that the frequency is increasing, due to pollution, climate change, and the generally shitty way we're treating our planet's life support systems. And that's a very legitimate concern.

But the current spike in observed mass deaths is partly a result of increased information and reporting. A century ago, the news of such an incident would be a local story. Even just four years ago, many fewer us us were rocketing stories around Facebook and the like. But now, thanks to the web, a dozen dead birds in a small town somewhere can fuel panic around the globe. And then once we're primed to look for them, every incident that would have passed with little mention just months ago becomes Part Of The Pattern. (It's a Law Of Fives sort of thing.)

So let's turn down the end-of-days talk and the deep-conspiracy-theory nonsense, okay? Then maybe we can look with a clear and level head at our impact on the planet. Thanks.

On average, 163 such mass-dieoffs happen in the U.S. alone each year, according to the USGS:…

The Arkansas incident that started this panic has been explained -- someone shot off about a dozen professional-grade fireworks near the roost of a blackbird flock, which can number in the tens of thousands of birds. Frightened into flight, disoriented, and night-blind, many crashed into houses, signs, and vehicles:…