Are mass bird deaths really that common?

I can’t help but write about the recent wildlife deaths that have been occurring all across the world. I paint dead birds every day but the news and images that have been popping up all over the internet, and now the main news channels, are quite disturbing – even to me.

Google’s map of wildlife deaths throughout the world.

With Fox news playing R.E.M.’s “End of the World” and sensationalizing (rather than de-escalating) the many apocalyptic theories that have been generated about these events (I place my vote for aliens), I have to wonder just how atypical these events are.

As anyone with the History channel will surely attest, our society has become rather obsessed with doomsday philosophies  – it would come as no surprise that the media would jump on such prophetic rumblings regardless of legitimate discrepancy.

In all the reading I’ve done about birds and their migratory habits I’ve become quite aware of how the slightest changes can have disastrous results. Discovery News agrees with this point of view and in their recent article Birds Falling From the Sky Not Unusual, reporter Emily Sohn reviews some of the history of such events, bringing to light how much these recent deaths have possibly been blown out of proportion in the media. An article by Seth Borenstien on Yahoo! news relates even more convincing (and well researched) information supporting the argument that mass die-offs aren’t at all that uncommon – in fact on average 163 such events are reported in North America alone.

Despite such seemingly reassuring (and completely depressing) statistics, the reality that so many species have turned up dead all across the world on a regular basis is still alarming. Statistics of past occurrences are disconcerting and it seems that in general the cause is often theorized as a result of some human catalyst.

I’ve always been concerned with ecological issues and although my work is about personal and social concepts, I have never disregarded the fact that my works have an ecological undertone; I’m rather supportive of this interpretation.

Field Sparrow, 22x30, graphite on paper, 2010

The recent media hype about end-of-the-world mass deaths is scary to me, simply because I wasn’t aware of how often stuff like this happens. If anything, media exploitation does bring to light some very real ecological issues. I have little doubt that many of these events would have fallen into the abyss of internet archives were it not for the New Year’s Eve blackbirds in Beebe, AR (which did not so much fall from the sky as fly toward the ground in extreme confusion and terror).

I’m also a bit worried about the fallout of such focus on the reception of my work. I don’t want to be ‘pigeon holed’ into some category by events like this. My work is about a lot of things and none of them were rooted in recent media frenzy. In some ways the very first bits of news that surfaced provided some images that positively reinforced some of my visual ideas, but now that everything is being blown out of proportion – the threat of some perceive referential content is rather disconcerting. (Sigh)

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