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Fireworks blamed for deaths of 3,000 blackbirds
01-04-2011, 01:49 PM,
Fireworks blamed for deaths of 3,000 blackbirds
Quote:The red-winged blackbirds rained out of the darkness onto rooftops and pavements and into fields a fireworks display held just before midnight. One struck a woman walking her dog. Another hit a police car.

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 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 Ms 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 the ground.

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."

The birds were the second mass wildlife death in Arkansas in recent days. Last week, several thousand dead drum fish washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, about 100 miles west of Beebe. Wildlife officials say the fish deaths are not related to the dead birds, and that because only one species of fish was affected, it is likely they were stricken by an illness.
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