The village of Jatinga, in India, plays host to a curious natural phenomenon every year. For nearly 100 years, between September and November and after the area’s monsoon season ends, thousands of birds plunge into the village and die.
The birds only do this on dark nights, when it is foggy or when they moon provides little light. It also only occurs between the hours of 6 and 10pm. It is thought that these birds become disoriented in the dark and fly towards the lights of the village. Some of the birds accidentally fly into windows and poles, which caused many to believe that they were somehow committing suicide. This theory has been debunked, though, as it has emerged that most of the birds are killed by the villagers, who are clubbed to death and then eaten. Residents of Jatinga even admit to turning on lights or lighting torches to attract them.
Though it is now known that the birds are not killing themselves, scientists are still puzzled as to why the birds are becoming so disoriented and flying into a death trap. Over 40 species of bird are involved in the annual event, so it cannot be explained by breed-specific behavior. There are also no long distance migratory birds involved in this phenomenon, either. So far, only local bird species, who should be less prone to disorientation and getting lost near to their home, have exhibited this destructive behavior.
Another strange aspect of this annual event is its restricted geographic location. The birds only fly towards the lights in a mile-long strip of land that is less than 100 feet wide. Attempts to place lights to attract the birds to adjacent areas have all failed. They also all fly in from the north only.
Some researchers have suggested that a combination of factors, including fog, altitude, and high winds, cause the birds to become disoriented and fly to the lights in an attempt to stabilize. It is also possible that the lights in the village are bright enough in themselves to disorient the birds.
Whatever the reason, conservation groups in the area have been working to stop the villagers from killing the birds. This has been an uphill battle since many see them as a gift from god, but they have managed to decrease the bird murders by at least forty percent over the past several years. Some hope to convince residents to use the phenomenon to attract tourists to the area, thereby boosting incomes and providing jobs. This has also had some effect, as a few hotels have sprung up to house visitors to Jatinga. It could be that the annual bird visitations could turn into a watching event, rather than the feasting event it currently is.