Beginning on New Years Eve in the small, Western Arkansas town of Beebe, somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 red-wing blackbirds fell dead from the sky, mostly onto Beebe’s Windwood neighborhood. If the total dead is in fact 5,000, that would be 500 more lifeless birds than Beebe has residents.
Scientists are still unsure of what exactly happened to the birds, but cursory tests showed that most of the dead showed clear signs of trauma. “The birds obviously hit something very hard and had hemorrhages," said Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
Experts are performing disease testing on the corpses in order to reach more definitive conclusions, but in the meantime the most plausible theory is that fireworks welcoming in the new year startled the nesting birds, causing them to fly recklessly into buildings and other hard impediments. “They were below the roof line, so they were hitting houses, mail boxes, chimneys and walls," said Rowe. “Blackbirds have very poor night vision.”
Augmenting the strangeness of the massive blackbird death was that, two days prior, a group of anglers fishing on the Arkansas River came across a terrifying sight: nearly 100,000 dead and dying fish floating atop the water’s surface on a 20-mile stretch in the state’s northwest corner.
Because all of the dead fish were drums, a species common in the Ozarks, officials believe disease is to blame, not a pollutant, which would kill indiscriminately. What’s more, officials say they’re almost certain the fish and bird deaths are unrelated.
Still, it’s certainly not been a good start to 2011 for Arkansas, especially if you’re an animal.