Every year, thousands of birds meet their death in Jatinga, a small village of around 2,500 tribal people in the Dima Hasao District of Assam in India. The event occurs at a specific time of the year, and under specific weather conditions. Though originally believed to be a mysterious case of bird suicides, ornithologists and conservationists discovered that though the birds exhibited strange behavior during this phenomenon, the actual death of many birds was brought about by villagers who killed the birds for their meat. However, though it was clear to the researchers that most birds were killed by villagers, they were utterly confused as to why such a large number of birds would arrive at Jatinga in unison and start behaving strangely at an unnatural period of the day, right after dark, when they are actually supposed to stay within the safety of their nests
Every year, after the monsoons are over, in the months of September and October, birds in Jatinga exhibit unusual behavior on certain occasions. On moonless nights, specifically between the after sunset hours of 6 pm and 9:30 pm, the birds, belonging to more than 44 species, appear to become completely disoriented. They fly in a haphazard manner and often strike objects in their way especially sources of light like floodlights of watch towers and lights in Jatinga homes and crash to the ground where they are brutally killed by the villagers. Since diurnal birds usually never exhibit any form of movements after dark and return to the safety of their nests by evening, the villagers consider such behavior to be an act of evil and that the birds are sent by demons to terrorize them. This is the justification provided by them for killing the birds.
The mass death of birds at Jatinga has been known to happen since a long time. It was first noticed by villagers in 1905 when they were on a search for a buffalo allegedly killed by a tiger and they discovered birds behaving strangely around flaming torches. In the later years, a combination of various natural conditions and human designed artificial lighting has led to a repetition of the phenomenon year after year and continues to this date, though birds now appear in much smaller numbers. The phenomenon of bird suicides in Jatinga was brought to global attention in the 1960’s when the famous naturalist of India, Edward Pritchard Gee and the world famous ornithologist Salim Ali set out on an expedition to study the mystery of Jatinga’s birds.