Monday, January 3, 2011

Curator of Bird Records addresses issue of central Arkansas' New Year's Eve 'blackbird rain'

Joe Neal writes:
I’ve been getting calls and email soliciting opinion about blackbirds falling dead from the sky at Beebe on New Year’s Eve—the so-called blackbird rain. I had one email from San Francisco and then a call from Portland (my daughter). This has been kind of upsetting to me because I thought everyone would be interested – or at least I would get some choice hate mail -- concerning my ARBIRD-L post about how ground up Northern Cardinals could cure middle age male paunch syndrome. But, no, it’s all about blackbird rain.

It’s all about blackbird rain even though we had a big twister up here on the same evening that killed three people at Cincinnati in Washington County. Branches bare of leaves are now re-vegetated with chicken-house tin, the tinning of the trees. In past years, Bald Eagles have maintained a winter roost in that area – I assume the twister didn’t do anything good for them, either. But today it’s all blackbird rain.

I was in Ozark Natural Foods and ran into some old friends. Here I am standing in front of an imposing case of 17 species of 100% organic granola, trying to decide which is most likely to restore my youthful vigor without also requiring me to take out a second mortgage on my house. They didn’t wonder if I had already violated any New Year’s resolutions. They wanted to discuss blackbird rain.

Questions directed at me may be because I hold the Very August position of Curator of Bird Records for Arkansas Audubon Society. Surely the person who presides over such an ornithological empire should know blackbird rain. I know just about the same amount as those who put forth the theory about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. That is, I know squat. But I do have opinions and I can’t see any reason why I need to have them grounded in fact. Lack of fact doesn’t seem to stop any of the radio politician millionaires who otherwise rule our airwaves, so why should it stop me?

In the space where I live, eerie blackbird rain meets all necessary weirdness criteria. It’s “out there,” in the unknowing sky, an unearthly event, a snug fit in my x-files. There is no readily available explanation unless, as one person suggested, space aliens are testing their new death ray. You can just imagine the aliens scouting planet earth who saw all the New Year’s celebration rockets going off. Then several thousand Red-winged Blackbirds – strangely altered earthlings -- converged on the mother ship. Time to try out the new toy, the death ray.

And then there’s this: The affected creatures may only look like blackbirds. What if they are body doubles of space aliens themselves, ejected by accident – or by design – from the mother ship? I suppose the cause could be as simple as blackbirds accidentally flying into the mother ship, but what would that change? And what the heck were they doing out there anyway, on New Year’s Eve?

In my official role as Curator, I contacted the US Office for Flying Saucer Investigations (FSI). “No comment,” said the FSI spokesperson, dismissively. But then an eerie voice came on the line. “We are on the case!” But which case I wondered? The granola case? The tinning of trees? The blackbirds, whoever they were or are? So many questions, so few facts. 2011 is off to a great start.

Joe Neal

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