Showers of Organic Matter

With the sudden interest in birds falling from the sky, following the apocalyptic death of thousands of red-winged blackbirds in Beebe, Arkansas, on New Years Eve 2010, there is a need for scientific literature that documented and explained previous cases of this phenomenon.

Probably the oldest and only scholarly report is ‘Showers of Organic Matter’ by Waldo L. McAtee (Assistant Biologist, U.S. Bureau of Biological Survey, Washington D.C.) published in Monthly Weather Review 45 (May 1917): 217-224.

In the first sentence McAtee sets the tone:

“The idea of organic matter and particularly of living things raining down from the sky, on first thought, is hard to entertain.”

Then follow descriptions of numerous cases of hay, jelly, honey, sugar, wheat, insects, worms, frogs, toads, fish, salamanders and a gopher turtle pouring down from the sky. Strangely there is only one case of a shower of birds:

“… but what shall we say of a shower of birds, in which hundreds dropped dead in the streets of a Louisiana city? In the Baton Rouge, La., correspondence of the Philadelphia Times, some time in 1896, it is stated that — On Friday morning [on the week before] last, early risers in the little capital [Baton Rouge, La.] witnessed a peculiar sight in the shape of a shower of birds that fell from a clear sky, literally cluttering the streets of the city. There were wild ducks, catbirds, woodpeckers, and many birds of strange plumage, some of them resembling canaries, but all dead, falling in heaps along the thoroughfares, the singular phenomenon attracting many spectators and causing much comment. […] Some idea of the extent of the shower may be gathered from the estimate that out on National Avenue alone the children of the neighborhood collected 200 birds.”

The same report, but quoted from a St.Louis newspaper, was first mentioned (and fully cited) in the ornithological literature in The Osprey (An Illustrated Monthly Magazine Devoted Exclusively to the Interests of Ornithology), volume 1, number 4, page 56 (December 1896). The cause of this shower of birds, as written in the newspaper, is improbable. [with thanks to NWT Online and Maarten Keulemans]

4 thoughts on “Showers of Organic Matter

  1. Pingback: Dead birds don’t fly « Kees Moeliker

  2. Pingback: Improbable Research » Blog Archive » Showers of Organic Matters

  3. Pingback: Research On “Showers Of Organic Matter” From 1917 - Dateline Zero

  4. Pingback: Dode vogels « Kees Moeliker

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