It’ll be raining cats and dogs next…

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It’ll be raining cats and dogs next…

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The story

Residents in a small town in Arkansas, USA started of their New Year with a bit of a mystery.

Over 3000 dead blackbirds fell from the sky on New Year’s Eve and experts are still not sure what caused it.  Tentative speculation has yielded many hypotheses as to what happened including high altitude hail and thunderstorms to the less scientific idea that the birds collided with an invisible UFO.  However, the most popular theory seems to be the deaths were caused by fireworks.

This theory states that the birds were scared of the explosions so flew at a lower height and started bumping into things such as rooftops which was made more likely because of the stress they were under caused by the noise.  However, this is not conclusive and tests are going to be carried out on the birds to find out if this yields any other clues as to what happened.  It seems to me very strange that fireworks should have caused this many deaths and in such a small area (of only 1 mile radius).  Doesn’t the city have fireworks every New Year’s Eve?  If so, why hasn’t this happened before?

To further add intrigue to the mystery, up to 100,000 dead fish were found washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River casino online about 120 miles away and another 500 birds fell from the sky in the nearby state of Louisiana.

Teaching ideas and resource

The BBC video on the links below would make an engaging starter to a lesson on theories.  Will science find an answer to why this happened or can we add these animal deaths to another one of life’s mysteries that science cannot find an answer to?

Or why not turn your students into detectives and ask them to solve the mystery of the falling birds?

It struck me that using this story is also an interesting way of showing students how hypothesising is used in the scientific method.

The bird mystery PowerPoint I have uploaded introduces the mystery (there is a link to a video on the BBC website as well) and asks students to work in pairs to come up with as many hypotheses as they can as to what might have been the cause of the birds’ demise.  They should also come up with a way of testing each one they think up.  For example, one hypothesis is that the birds all ate a poisonous substance.  A way of testing this is to run tests on the dead birds and see of any toxic substances are detected in their body tissues.  You could then ask the pairs to share with the rest of the class their top 2 most likely hypotheses and see if the class can agree on the most likely cause.


News story from The Guardian

Video from the BBC explaining the different theories for the animal deaths