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WILD NATURE

Nearly 3,000 Dead Birds Fall From Arkansas Sky

Jan. 1: An Environmental Services worker picks up a dead bird in Beebe, Ark. as other dead birds line the street behind him.

Wildlife experts are trying to solve an apocalyptic-type mystery: Why did nearly 3,000 red-winged blackbirds tumble from the Arkansas sky on New Year's Eve?

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission spokesman Keith Stephens says the birds fell in an area about a mile long and a half-mile wide (1 1/2 kilometers long and 800 meters wide). The Commission said Saturday that it began receiving reports about the dead birds about 11:30 p.m. the previous night. 

The birds fell over a 1-mile (2-kilometer) area, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area. Laboratories in Arkansas, Georgia and Wisconsin will examine some carcasses starting Monday. Results could be back in a week.

Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe said the birds showed physical trauma, and she speculated that "the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail."

The commission also speculated that New Year's Eve revelers shooting off fireworks in the area could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress.

Rowe said that similar events have occurred elsewhere and that test results "usually were inconclusive." She said she doubted the birds were poisoned.

It's not the first time birds have dropped from the Arkansas sky. Lightning killed ducks at Hot Springs in 2001 and hail knocked birds from the sky at Stuttgart in 1973 on the day before hunting season.