Bird invasion brings horror and disease to Kentucky city
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Millions of birds have descended on a small Kentucky city this winter, fouling the landscape, scaring pets and raising the risk for disease in a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock’s horror film, “The Birds.”2006: Changes in red-winged blackbird population reflect climatology | News-Gazette.com
The blackbirds and European starlings blacken the sky of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, before roosting at dusk, turn the landscape white with bird poop, and the disease they carry can kill a dog and sicken humans.
“I have seen them come in, and there are enough that if the sun is just right, they’ll cloud your vision of the sun,” said Hopkinsville-Christian County historian William Turner. “I estimate there are millions of them.”
David Chiles, president of the Little River Audubon Society, said the fact that migratory flocks are roosting in the city rather than flying further south is tied to climate warming.
Climate change might be reducing the population of red-winged blackbirds and also increasing the ratio of females to males produced by the birds.
At a research station in Ontario, Canada, where University of Illinois Professor Patrick Weatherhead has studied the blackbirds for the past quarter century, the bird's breeding population has dropped dramatically by 50 percent in recent decades, a decline apparently related to weather trends as far south as the Southeastern United States.
Moreover, in what may be another warning sign of the potentially broad ecological impacts of global warming, Weatherhead found that the red-winged blackbirds summering and breeding at the Canadian location are producing more females than males. The population ratio was formerly about 50-50.
He thinks the answer might be, in large part, the type of storms produced in warmer, wetter winters, which can soak the birds before temperatures drop into the sleet- and ice-forming range, conditions that make them especially prone to heat loss and deadly hypothermia.
"You can get massive bird kills," Weatherhead said.