Arkansas birds fell from sky after "massive trauma"

Mon Jan 3, 2011 6:30pm EST
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LITTLE ROCK, Arkansas (Reuters) - Thousands of dead red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in an Arkansas town on New Year's Eve after massive trauma, tests by Arkansas veterinary officials concluded on Monday.

Some 5,000 birds mysteriously fell from the sky in Beebe, Ark. after dark on New Year's Eve.

"The birds suffered from acute physical trauma leading to internal hemorrhage and death. There was no sign of chronic or infectious disease," the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said in a statement. The birds were otherwise healthy, it said.

One theory is that birds were spooked by New Year's fireworks and flew into buildings or other objects.

"Loud noises were reported shortly before the birds began to fall from the sky," the statement said, adding that blackbirds have poor night vision and seldom fly at night.

Another theory was that severe weather such as lightning accounted for the load noises but this was discounted because the violent weather had already left the area.

"We're leaning more toward a stress event," said Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens.

The commission also is trying to determine what caused the deaths of up to 100,000 fish over a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near a dam in Ozark, 125 miles west of Beebe. The fish were discovered December 30.

Stephens said the commission expects results on the fish tests in probably a month. Disease may be the culprit, since almost all the fish were one species -- bottom-feeding drum, Stephens said.

Stephens said the events do not appear related. Both that section of the river and the air at the site of the bird deaths were tested for toxins, Stephens said. Beebe is a town of about 4,500 people located 30 miles northeast of the state capital.

(Writing by Mary Wisniewski, Editing by Greg McCune)