- Hello Jeff - ...and if anyone believes this whopper
I have a bridge or two to sell them.
- First of all, not just red-winged blackbirds fly in the
skies of Arkansas, so what would make only one species of bird drop dead
from fright over New Years fireworks going off? IF it was fireworks, then
wouldn't other species be scared to death, too?
- And, ooops, what about the thousands of dead FISH...83,000
to be exact....in a 20 miles stretch of the Arkansas River?
- A lot of die-offs that affect one species are generally
due to a pathogen that is species specific. It seems too wild to believe
that only one species, in this case, red winged blackbirds, would die of
'fright' and no other species would be affected. We also cannot discount
that of the 83,000 dead fish, there was only one species involved - drum
- I have to file these two laughers with the great, simultaneous
Bermuda Flamingo die-off...officially declared to have been caused by 'old
age'! And then there was the Oregon Pelican die-off which was said to
be caused by massive, simultaneous 'exhaustion.'
- Again, I have some bridges that I might be able to be
talked out of...
- Theories Run Rampant After Ark. Birds Fall
- Carcasses Picked Up On Sunday
- Jeannie Nuss
- BEEBE, AR -- New Year's revelers in a small Arkansas
town were enjoying midnight fireworks when they noticed something other
than sparks falling from the sky: thousands of dead blackbirds.
- The red-winged blackbirds rained out of the darkness
onto rooftops and sidewalks and into fields. One struck a woman walking
her dog. Another hit a police cruiser.
- Birds were "littering the streets, the yards, the
driveways, everywhere," said Robby King, a county wildlife officer
in Beebe, a community of 5,000 northeast of Little Rock. "It was hard
to drive down the street in some places without running over them."
- In all, more than 3,000 birds tumbled to the ground.
Scientists said Monday that fireworks appeared to have frightened the birds
into such a frenzy that they crashed into homes, cars and each other. Some
may have flown straight into the ground.
- "The blackbirds were flying at rooftop level instead
of treetop level" to avoid explosions above, said Karen Rowe, an ornithologist
with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. "Blackbirds have poor
eyesight, and they started colliding with things."
- But Rowe stopped short of declaring the mystery solved,
saying labs planned to test bird carcasses for toxins or disease. Another
theory was that violent thunderstorms might have disoriented the flock
or even just one bird that could have led the group in a fatal plunge to
- In an unrelated incident, the Arkansas Game and Fish
Commission said about 83,000 drum fish washed up along a 17-mile stretch
of the Arkansas River last week. The commission said the fish kill appeared
to have been caused by disease, but test results will take about a month
to come back.
- With the birds, a few stunned ones survived their fall
and stumbled around like drunken revelers. There was little light across
the countryside at the time, save for the glimmer of fireworks and some
lightning on the horizon. In the tumult, many birds probably lost their
- "I turn and look across my yard, and there's all
these lumps," said Shane Roberts, who thought hail was falling until
he saw a dazed blackbird beneath his truck. His 16-year-old daughter, Alex,
spent Saturday morning picking them up. "Their legs are really squishy,"
the teen said.
- For some people, the scene unfolding shortly before midnight
evoked images of the apocalypse and cut short New Year's celebrations.
Many families phoned police instead of popping champagne.
- "I think the switchboard lit up pretty good,"
said Beebe police Capt. Eddie Cullum. "For all the doomsdayers, that
was definitely the end of the world."
- Paul Duke filled three five-gallon buckets with dead
birds on New Year's Day. "They were on the roof of the house, in the
yard, on the sidewalks, in the street," said Duke, a suspension supervisor
at a nearby school. A few dead birds still littered town streets Monday.
- The birds will not be missed. Large roosts like the one
at Beebe can have thousands of birds that leave ankle- to knee-deep piles
of droppings in places. On Monday, a few live birds chirped and hopped
from tree to tree behind the Roberts' home.
- "The whole sky turns black every morning and every
night," Roberts said.
- At Duke's home, bird feeders stood empty. He fills them
when bluebirds come in the summer but leaves them empty during blackbird
- "They'd eat 50 pounds of feed a day," he said.
"You couldn't keep them full."
- Red-winged blackbirds are the among North America's most
abundant birds, with somewhere between 100 million and 200 million nationwide,
according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y. Rowe put the
number of dead in Beebe at "easily 3,000." Thousands can roost
in one tree.
- The Game and Fish Commission shipped carcasses to the
Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission and the National Wildlife Health
Center in Madison, Wis. Researchers at the University of Georgia's wildlife
disease study group also asked for a set of birds. Test results could be
back in a week.
- A few grackles and a couple of starlings were also among
the dead. Those species roost with blackbirds, particularly in winter.
- "They died from massive trauma," said Game
and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens, citing a report from the
state poultry lab where the birds were examined. The injuries were primarily
in the breast tissue, with blood clotting and bleeding in the body cavities.
- Residents heard loud fireworks just before the birds
started hitting the ground.
- "They started going crazy, flying into one another,"
Stephens said. The birds apparently also hit homes, trees and other objects,
and some could have been killed by flying hard into the ground.
- The area where the birds fell is too large to determine
if any specific blast rousted the birds, Police Chief Wayne Ballew said.
- "It was New Year's Eve night. Everybody and their
brother was shooting fireworks," Ballew said. The city allows fireworks
only on New Year's Eve and Independence Day.
- Bad weather was to blame for earlier bird kills in Arkansas.
- In 2001, lightning killed dozens of mallards at Hot Springs,
and a flock of dead pelicans was found in the woods about 10 years ago,
Rowe said. Lab tests showed that they, too, had been hit by lighting.
- In 1973, hail knocked birds from the sky at Stuttgart,
Ark., on the day before hunting season. Some of the birds were caught in
a violent storm's updrafts and became encased in ice before falling from
the sky. Some were described as bowling balls with feathers.
- Earlier Friday, a tornado killed three people in Cincinnati,
Ark., about 150 miles away, but most of the bad weather was already past
Beebe when the birds died.
- Rowe initially said poisoning was possible, but unlikely.
Birds of prey and other animals, including dogs and cats, ate several of
the dead birds and suffered no ill effects.
- "Every dog and cat in the neighborhood that night
was able to get a fresh snack," Rowe said.