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Mystery Kills

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Bad Omen – Birds Falling Dead From The Sky

By James Donahue

Citizens of Beebe, Arkansas, will remember New Year’s Eve as the night five thousand redwing blackbirds fell dead on their town from the sky. Instead of celebrating, Beebe residents stood in horror as birds fell in yards, on rooftops and on automobiles during a thirty minute period beginning at 11:30 p.m. and ending at about midnight. Some of the birds were still alive when they hit the ground, but they died soon afterward.

One resident, Stephen Bryant, was quoted as saying he saw the first bird drop at around 10:30 p.m. Another resident, Melissa Weatherly, said she had to drive to work that night. “You could not even get down the road without running over hundreds. It was that bad,” she told a reporter.

The City Council held a special meeting on New Year Day to hire a contracting company to find all of the carcasses and dispose of them. Dozens of workers, dressed in protective hazmat suits, spent the day walking through yards and climbing on roofs to pick up between 4,000 and 5,000 birds. It was a surreal scene that added an eerie atmosphere to an already bazaar mystery

The area was tested for toxins and nothing was found. So what killed those birds?.

The state Game and Fish Commission is investigating the cause. About 65 dead birds have been sent to the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission lab plus the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin, for analysis.

A search determined that the area where the birds fell was within the city limits. No dead birds were found outside of Beebe.

Early thoughts were that the birds were in some way poisoned, either by something they had just consumed or by some kind of gaseous cloud they encountered over Beebe. But Beebe is a community of just over 5,000 people and has no industry that might have produced a toxic vapor. Its major employer is a branch campus of Arkansas State University which specializes in long distance learning and two-year technical trade programs.

Other thoughts were that the bird deaths were stress related after a private resident shot off fireworks to celebrate the start of the New Year. The problem with this theory is that the birds began falling as early as 10:30 p.m., long before the start of the holiday. Redwings roost in large numbers, especially during winter months, sometimes mixing with other blackbird breeds and starlings. Would the explosion of a fire cracker cause every bird in a single roost to take flight and die of stress at the same time?

Adding to the mystery at Beebe is the strange kill of an estimated 100,000 drum fish along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River about 125 miles west of Beebe. A tugboat operator reported the fish kill Thursday evening, about 24 hours before the Beebe bird kill. The Game and Fish Commission also is investigating the cause of this odd kill, which affected one breed of fish. None of the other fish in the river were affected.

What is troubling about the mass bird kill is that it is not a phenomenon specifically unique to this central Arkansas city. It has been happening all over the world in recent years.

Fish kills, usually caused by released toxins in the water, usually hit all species of life in the polluted area. That only the drum fish died makes the mass kill yet another environmental mystery.

Other unexplained events involving the mass deaths of birds in flight include:

In March, 2010, more than 100 starlings dropped from the sky and into a residential garden in Coxley, Somerset, England. The dead and dying birds carpeted the garden, their claws curled and blood oozing from their beaks.

In December, 2007, a flock of about 50 purple martins fell from the sky in Staten Island, New York City. Observers said they would land, lie on the ground, flap their wings and then die. Others fell dead from the sky, having died in mid-air. All of the birds fell in one small area, within a residential development.

The Chinese news agency reported the most spectacular bird kill of them all in May, 2004. The report said more than 10,000 birds dropped like rain from the sky in the City of Taizhau in China’s eastern Jiangsu province. The birds were identified as bramble finch. The report said most of the birds appeared to have died in flight and were dead when they struck the ground.

In each case, the carcasses were analyzed and the cause of the bird deaths could not be determined. Because it is happening more and more frequently, and because it is happening at all, is an alarming sign that something is going very wrong with the world environment. If the sky is becoming too toxic for the birds, that have existed on this planet perhaps longer than humans, how soon will it be too toxic for the rest of us?