No poison or illness found in dead Arkansas birds
Preliminary autopsies on 17 of the up to 5,000 blackbirds that fell over an Arkansas town indicate they died of blunt trauma to their organs, the state’s top veterinarian told NBC News on Monday.
Their stomachs were empty, which rules out poison, Dr. George Badley said, and they died in midair, not on impact with the ground.
That evidence, and the fact that the red-winged blackbirds fly in close flocks, suggests they suffered some massive midair collision, he added. That lends weight to theories that they were startled by something.
Earlier Monday, the estimated number of dead birds was raised to between 4,000 and 5,000, up sharply from the initial estimate of 1,000.
Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, provided the new numbers.
Residents of the small town of Beebe awoke Saturday to find thousands of dead blackbirds littering a 1.5-square-mile area. The birds inexplicably dropped dead, landing on homes, cars and lawns.
The director of Cornell University’s ornithology lab in Ithaca, N.Y., said the most likely suspect is violent weather. It’s probable that thousands of birds were asleep, roosting in a single tree, when a “washing machine-type thunderstorm” sucked them up into the air, disoriented them, and even fatally soaked and chilled them.
“Bad weather can occasionally catch flocks off guard, blow them off a roost, and they get hurled up suddenly into this thundercloud,” lab director John Fitzpatrick said.
Rough weather had hit the state earlier Friday, but the worst of it was already well east of Beebe by the time the birds started falling, said Chris Buonanno, a forecaster with the National Weather Service in North Little Rock.
If weather was the cause, the birds could have died in several ways, Fitzpatrick said. They could easily become disoriented — with no lights to tell them up and down — and smack into the ground. Or they could have died from exposure.
The birds’ feathers keep them at a toasty 103 degrees, but “once that coat gets unnaturally wet, it’s only a matter of minutes before they’re done for,” Fitzpatrick said.
Lightning or hail are also possibilities.
Rowe noted that birds of prey and other animals, including dogs and cats, ate several of the dead blackbirds and suffered no ill effects.
“Every dog and cat in the neighborhood was able to get a fresh snack that night,” Rowe said.
Mike Robertson, the mayor in Beebe, said the last dead bird was removed about 11 a.m. Sunday in the town about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock.
Several hundred thousand red-winged blackbirds have used a wooded area in the town as a roost for the past several years.
Robertson and other officials went to the roost area over the weekend and found no dead birds on the ground.
“That pretty much rules out an illness” or poisoning, the mayor said.
But some residents voiced concerns.
“I’ve been to Iraq and back and seen nothing like this,” Beebe resident Jeff Drennan told local Fox16 News on Sunday.
^ ^ Quoted from No poison found in birds that fell on town – U.S. news – Environment – msnbc.com. ^ ^