The mysterious deaths of thousands of blackbirds is leaving people around the world scratching their heads-but so is the official explanation. As an AFP article on Discovery News noted a couple days ago, "Fright likely killed thousands of birds which dropped onto a small town in Arkansas, officials said Monday. As many as 5,000 birds began falling over the small town of Beebe shortly before midnight on New Year's Eve. ‘We right now are pretty confident that the trauma is what caused the die-off,' said state veterinarian George Badley."
This explanation seemed bird-brained to many people, including those who posted in response to the Discovery News piece. Their skepticism is understandable: Fright killed the birds? An animal might die from any number of causes, such as blood loss, trauma, or the heart or lungs ceasing to function. But fright cannot kill anything.
The idea that psychological trauma has a physical effect is an ancient one, and fear has generated its own folklore. For example, it is widely believed that sudden fright can not only kill, but turn hair white. This is a common theme in horror films (especially older ones) and ghost stories. It is also featured prominently in many urban legends, describing the results of, for example, encounters with hook-handed serial killers freshly escaped from local insane asylums.