An omen of impending disaster? The start of a real-life version of Alfred Hitchcock’s classic horror film “The Birds”? Those were the thoughts that crossed some people’s minds when they saw a viral video of a massive flock of blackbirds.
The viral video, first posted to TikTok on Jan. 23, 2023, and liked more than 400,000 times, pans across a residential neighborhood street. Blackbirds are everywhere: on the street, atop cars and perched on houses.
A month later, on Feb. 21, 2023, the video was reposted in a now-deleted tweet that was viewed more than 700,000 times. “In Mexico, birds have started to congregate in the streets,” the person who reposted it wrote. “The main theory behind this is that the birds sense an environmental crisis is coming.” A tweet with identical language was reposted a couple of days later and was viewed 4 million times.
Does this massive flock of blackbirds indicate an impending natural disaster?
No, this massive flock of blackbirds does not indicate an impending natural disaster. These kinds of birds commonly gather in large numbers during the winter.
WHAT WE FOUND
Blackbirds frequently gather in enormous numbers during the winter, and these flocks are common visitors of residential neighborhoods. Not only is this behavior typical for blackbirds, there’s been no disasters in the region in which the video was shot since it was first posted online.
Three seconds into the TikTok video, a license plate from Guanajuato, a state in central Mexico, is visible. The neighborhood appears to be in the city of Santiago de Querétaro, which is just over Guanajuato’s border.
While some research has been done based on anecdotal evidence that birds can predict earthquakes, the United States Geological Survey (USGS) says, consistent and reliable evidence of this behavior has yet to be found. Multiple earthquake monitors indicate there have been no destructive earthquakes in central Mexico in the month since the bird video was first posted. A Google search for 2023 disasters in Querétaro and central Mexico reveals no other disasters in that region.
According to the National Audubon Society and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, there are several different species of blackbirds that can be found in central Mexico during the winter. This includes the Brewer’s blackbird, European starling, brown-headed cowbird, red-winged blackbird and the great-tailed grackle.
The brewer’s blackbird is commonly seen in residential neighborhoods, parks, city streets, suburban sidewalks and on power lines. It will feed on the ground, and it often flocks with other species, “including grackles, red-winged blackbirds, cowbirds and starlings,” the Cornell Lab says.
The Cornell Lab says red-winged blackbirds can be in “congregations of several million birds, including other blackbird species and starlings. Each morning the roosts spread out, traveling as far as 50 miles to feed, then re-forming at night.”
Guides from Cornell Lab and the National Audubon Society on other blackbirds make similar mentions of massive mixed-species flocks, ground-feeding and urban habitats.
Mixed-species flocks of blackbirds and starlings estimated to number in the millions have been sighted for decades. A 1964 flock of red-winged blackbirds spotted in Arkansas was estimated to include 40 million birds, according to the Columbia Audubon Society. Flocks believed to include millions of birds have been spotted just within the six-county region of Missouri covered by the Columbia Audubon Society several times in the last few years alone.
Another name for such flocks are “murmurations,” the UNC Charlotte Urban Institute says. This flocking pattern is effective for reducing the odds individual birds are eaten by predators. Numerous videos of murmurations depicting rivers of birds flying in awe-inspiring, synchronized movements have been posted to YouTube over the years.
Cities are not immune from these incredible flocks of birds, as evidenced by the many videos of starling flocks flying over and descending upon Rome. Blackbird swarms are so common in cities that many wildlife specialists post guides on “controlling nuisance blackbirds” in urban roosts, such as this one from the University of Missouri.