Fact check: Should we be worried about birds crowding streets and falling from the sky?
Videos of birds congregating on streets and falling from the sky are going viral on social media.
Users are speculating that it could be the sign of an impending environmental catastrophe.
So, should we be worried?
Why are people worried about birds' behaviour?
A video posted on TikTok and Twitter multiple times in the last two weeks showing hundreds of birds descending on a street has garnered millions of views.
One of the posts, with over 400k views alone, claims that “the main theory behind this is that the birds sense an environmental crisis is coming.”
Thousands of users shared the video with similar comments fearing that a natural disaster was imminent.
The video also claimed to be of Japan, even though, as some users point out, the architecture did not match up and a Mexican licence plate can be seen on one of the cars.
Can birds predict future natural disasters?
Science suggests that animals may be able to sense natural disasters like earthquakes quicker than humans, but only by seconds or minutes.
When an earthquake hits, seismic waves emanate out from the tremor epicentre.
Primary waves - the first waves to be felt - are smaller, and go largely undetected by humans. They precede more violent secondary waves, which can shake the ground and topple buildings.
Animals - who have more acute senses of hearing and smell than humans - may feel these seconds or minutes before humans.
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And scientists are researching whether animal behaviour can be a kind of early warning system. You can read about this in more detail here.
But when it comes to groups of birds flocking together, it’s nothing to be worried about.
As this is now making its way to twitter…here’s what you need to know about this video. pic.twitter.com/UGKjOj1XxR
— Kaeli Swift, Ph.D. (@corvidresearch) February 19, 2023
“A group of blackbirds forming a big flock in an urban landscape is totally normal blackbird behaviour,” says Kaelie Swift, an avian ecologist and researcher at the University of Washington, in a video she posted online in response to the viral videos.
“So this idea that it’s somehow ominous, it’s somehow related to anything going on anywhere else in the world is totally bogus.”
She goes on to say that the frightened reaction to the video shows how disconnected from nature many of us are.
What is the meaning of dead birds falling out of the sky?
A clip of hundreds of birds falling to their apparent deaths in the northern Mexican city of Chihuahua is another video that has been doing the rounds on social media recently.
Can anyone explain what is happening here? pic.twitter.com/ZHrU3nkkEY
— OddIy Terrifying (@OTerrifying) February 16, 2023
The footage from a security camera shows a flock of migratory birds plunging to the street from a great height. While many of the birds manage to fly away, subsequent footage reveals a grisly collection of carcasses scattered across the tarmac.
This video is actually not new - the incident occurred in February 2022. At the time a local vet initially placed blame for the incident on high levels of pollution. And there was a baseless conspiracy theory that the installation of 5G technology could be to blame.
But experts believe that it was most likely the movements of a predatory bird that caused the flock of blackbirds to plunge to their deaths.
How can we protect against spreading false information online?
The News Literacy Project, an NGO that educates the public on how to be smart news consumers, says that “people should be aware that photos and videos of dead birds have been used for years to stir up conspiratorial and apocalyptic fears.”
It was responding to yet more misinformation involving birds in the wake of a freight train carrying hazardous materials derailing in Ohio earlier this month. People posted old photos of dead birds on social media and falsely claimed they were connected to the train derailment.
“Conspiracists and misinformation opportunists attempt to connect this type of imagery to current events, without legitimate proof,” it adds.
Even if something has been viewed and shared hundreds of thousands of times, it does not mean it is verified. Try to find the original source before you share something.
And beware of memes or social media posts created by complete strangers. They are often inaccurate or misleading. Seek out experts instead.