January 7, 2011 in Nation/World

Blackbirds in die-off killed by blunt force

Finding supports hypothesis that fireworks startled birds
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

The mystery of the deaths of thousands of blackbirds in Arkansas this month has been solved, federal scientists say.

They died of blunt-force trauma, according to the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. Samples of the blackbirds and others from a separate mass die-off about the same time in Louisiana were brought to the little-known laboratory on Madison’s west side for necropsies.

“They died of impact force to their bodies,” said Scott Wright, chief of disease investigations at the center.

He said the birds clearly showed signs of bruises.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said tests for evidence of pesticide poisoning were negative.

At least 3,000 red-winged blackbirds died on New Year’s Eve near Beebe, Ark. Fireworks probably sent them flying from their roosts.

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said the agency began receiving reports of blackbirds falling from the sky around 11:30 p.m. on Dec. 31 in a one-square-mile area of Beebe.

The mass kill spawned speculation that their demise was caused by a chemical pollutant – a fear heightened by the arrival in Beebe of workers combing neighborhoods in hazmat suits. As the story spread, other theories included biblical apocalypse to proof of the presence of UFOs.

“It’s believed that the noise startled them – they are poor night fliers – and they were in close proximity to neighborhoods, and they flew into homes and cars,” Wright said.

A separate incident near Baton Rouge, La., involving about 450 blackbirds is still under investigation by the center, Wright said.

“I think the two events are a coincidence,” Wright said.

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