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The birds who die each autumn

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In Jatinga, you should pity those poor birds.

Photo by Matt King/Getty Images

After the rains of the monsoon season have subsided, thousands of disoriented birds descend onto the small village of Jatinga, India.

For years, a myth persisted that the birds were committing suicide. Perfectly healthy and typically young, these birds were believed to be plummeting from the sky and straight into the ground by choice. Native or migratory, it didn’t matter, each September they were coming to Jatinga to die.

Yet, it wasn’t the fall that killed them. A closer look at the phenomenon helps to reveal some interesting truths.

The birds weren’t intentionally plummeting to the earth; they were disoriented from dangerous winds at their flight altitude and, becoming attracted to the lights of the village, landed there in vast numbers. They didn’t come to Jatinga to die, they didn’t come for any particular reason at all. Even if they could speak for themselves, they still probably couldn’t articulate why it was they found themselves there in the first place.

They were simply birds, guided to an autumnal landing spot by forces they couldn’t comprehend.

Unfortunately, the tribal inhabitants of Jatinga saw things differently. Instead of considering some avian outreach and study, they became convinced that the thousands of birds descending unto their village were evil spirits coming to terrorize them. Armed with that belief (and several bamboo sticks), the villagers responded to their visitors in-kind.

By beating them to death.

There is no nuanced communication between birds, at least not that humans can discern. If there were, word would have likely reached the various flocks by now, telling them to skip Jatinga for fall break, unless you are looking for a hotspot to be mercilessly clubbed to death by frightened villagers.

But no such messages are conveyed, and so each year a new flock of birds (or evil spirits, depending on your upbringing) show up in Jatinga and each year most are beaten into the dirt by its inhabitants. If the birds KNEW they were flying to a village that won’t hesitate to end their lives, you could categorize the very act of landing there as suicide. We can, and should, pity these birds— for they have no idea what awaits them.

“That’s a real sad story, dad.” the child looked back at his father as he opened the passenger side door.

“Believe me, son,” the father finished packing away the remaining supplies into the back of the truck, a crimson canopy emblazoned with the words ‘INDIANA FOOTBALL’ in cream font shoved indelicately until the tailgate could latch shut.

“I’ve heard sadder.”