CBC Investigates

Dozens of birds fall out of the sky in mysterious 'mortality event'

People were shocked to witness the birds, believed to be starlings, plunge to the ground near the BC Ferries terminal on Sept. 14.

Officials investigating what caused birds, believed to be starlings, to plunge to the ground

A number of dead birds, which bystanders say fell from the sky, lie on the pavement. (Kevin Beech)

The Canadian Wildlife Service is investigating a "mortality event" in which dozens of birds literally fell from the sky on a road near Tsawwassen, B.C.

People were shocked to witness the birds, believed to be starlings, plunge to the ground near the BC Ferries terminal on Sept. 14.

It is unclear whether they were dead before hitting the ground.

'It was horrible'

Kevin Beech says the scene was something reminiscent of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.

"The poor little guys were in blood pools and stuff. It was horrible," he said.

He took a picture and posted it on Facebook, where it was shared hundreds of times. 

Those who witnessed the event told Beech it was like a mass suicide as the birds, believed to be starlings, crashed to the ground in a big group.

A dead bird found near the ferry terminal. (Belle Puri/CBC)

Shawn Phillips was on his way to pick up someone from the ferry terminal when he says he saw "swarms of birds doing aerial events."

He said one of the groups did a loop and then dived straight into the ground. 

"Man it was unexpected. It was unreal to see. It was spooky to see," Phillips said.

He pulled over but said, "there were no survivors".

Post-mortem examination

The "mortality event" is being investigated by the Canadian Wildlife Service and the Delta Wildlife Shelter.

The carcasses of the birds were collected and sent to a laboratory for a post-mortem examination to determine a probable cause of death, according to Environment Canada migratory bird biologist Laurie Wilson.

"We won't know the cause of death until the birds have been examined," she said.

Rob Hope of the OWL Orphaned Wildlife centre, thinks the birds may have been malnourished and stressed. (CBC)

Rob Hope from the OWL Orphaned Wildlife rehabilitation centre in Delta, B.C., speculates that the deaths were related to migration and hunger and that stormy weather may have stressed the birds.

"Most of the flocking birds at this time of the year ... will not only be stressed but malnourished and that can cause their bodies to shut down and just drop from the sky."

Common phenomenon in Indian village

There have been reports of mass bird deaths elsewhere in the world.

In India, a small village called Jatinga is famous for the phenomenon. For a few months in the fall, hundreds of birds fly at high speed and crash into a mountain ridge at night, causing bird carcasses to be scattered across the valley below. Locals believe evil spirits are responsible.


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Corrections

  • A previous version of this story contained a photo identified as Jatinga, India. In fact, it was from Louisiana.
    Sep 23, 2018 11:39 AM PT

with files from Belle Puri