Death + Biology Death + Disaster Death + Humor

Bye Bye Birdies

The recent spate of mass bird deaths has taken flight across the Internet—a literal and figurative tweeting and Twittering—and dare I say crowing—on a large scale. You could say it’s causing quite a “flap.” Reported by the Associated Press, the Daily Mail and others, masses of birds have been mysteriously falling from the sky in the U.S and Europe, dead on arrival. Red-winged blackbirds, starlings and turtle doves have been the victims in these rains of death. In addition, reports of mass fish deaths in the American South and crab die-offs in England have also joined the fray. But what of it? Are these the fabled “end times”? Media hype? Or something else?

Speculation has run rampant, but according to the U.S. Geological Survey, die-offs such as these happen more frequently than is reported—but, because of instant communication now possible via the Internet and the 24-hour news cycle—people (the media included) are trying to connect the dots and perhaps make connections where there is none. The USGS calmly says,

While large-scale bird die-offs are always a concern, they are not that unusual. USGS records list at least 16 events involving more than 1,000 black birds or starlings over the past 30 years. The majority of these cases were poison related, although weather-related trauma was also the cause of some events

Although no definitive explanation has yet been found—and may never be—the speculation and hype has been staggering. It has even been dubbed “aflockalypse” by some (!) Check out the nifty Google Map tracing mass animal deaths worldwide that a lone blogger put together. Depending on your tendencies, you can allay, or perhaps heighten? your fears, by reading the Black Bird die-off Investigation page here. Oh, and there’s even a USGS webpage called the New and Ongoing Wildlife Mortality Rates Nationwide. Here, you can keep track of reported events involving “a network of partners across the country work on documenting wildlife mortality events in order to provide timely and accurate information on locations, species and causes of death.” Who knew?

We usually stick to the strictly human side of death here at DRD. Sure, we have the occasional drunken elk rampage story, (i.e. Man vs. Beast). Really, the interest for me is more about how we, as a society, are reacting to these bird deaths rather than the deaths themselves. But before you run down to your public library looking for a King James bible to check out (don’t bother because they’re all stolen of course) or borrow a copy of Evan Almighty (we can only hope these are all stolen) take a deep breath and do a little fact checking. Maybe a viewing of The Birds is in order? For now, invest in a sturdy umbrella.

*No animals were harmed in the writing of this post. However, black(bird) humor was employed at least a once or twice.

Death + Crime

Vote or Die… or, “and”

Episode 20: This Ungainly Fowl
Nate DiMeo, The Memory Palace (October 16, 2009)

Poe, painted by Oscar Halling in the late 1860s.In honor of Election Day in the United States and in roundabout follow-up to Edgar Allan Poe’s century-late funeral, check out the above recent podcast from Nate DiMeo of The Memory Palace.

Nate describes the circumstances surrounding Poe’s mysterious death, who was found in the street outside a Baltimore tavern, delirious and dressed in another man’s clothes. Taken to the hospital, he floundered in and out of consciousness; unable to articulate what had happened, he died a few days later.

One theory, as Nate relays, is Poe was randomly kidnapped and coerced into a vicious form of voter fraud known as “cooping”: in between quick clothes changes, threats, beatings and drugs, he was carted by thugs around the city to different polling stations and forced to vote.

Listen to the podcast! You know, after you exercise your right and duty to vote, once, not drugged or smacked around, and wearing your own clothes. (It’s short — under 5 minutes. By the by, The Memory Palace has some wonderful treasures… sort of like a This American Life for the 19th Century. Do explore!)