U.S. News

Arkansas bird deaths blamed on fireworks, more cases found

NASHVILLE, Tennessee (Reuters) - The deaths of 5,000 red-winged blackbirds in Beebe, Arkansas have been blamed on New Year’s Eve fireworks, officials confirmed on Thursday, citing preliminary tests.

“It’s looking more and more like that,” said Keith Stephens, spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. It appears unusually loud noises frightened the birds out of their nighttime roost, and they may have flown into trees, houses and other objects, the commission said in a statement.

Blackbirds have poor night vision and typically do not fly at night.

Meanwhile, wildlife experts are investigating other mass bird deaths in Louisiana, Tennessee and Kentucky. About 450 red-winged blackbirds and starlings were found along a stretch of highway in Pointe Coupee Parish, Louisiana, a few days after the Arkansas deaths.

About 100 mostly blackbirds were found in Wilson County, Tennessee between Christmas and New Year’s Eve, according to the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency.

In Murray County, Kentucky, several hundred grackles, red-winged blackbirds and starlings were found within several blocks near Murray State University last week, said Mark Marraccini, spokesman for the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Marraccini said no toxins were discovered, and it was not known how the birds died. “They’re still looking into it,” he said.

While the deaths have sparked multiple theories, a bird expert said these types of birds tend to roost at night in huge numbers, and a disturbance can easily cause some to be disoriented and collide with buildings or trees.

Melanie Driscoll, director of bird conservation, Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi Flyway, National Audubon Society said that birds like blackbirds and starlings roost in large congregations, of 100,000 or more. Compared to the size of the roost, 500 too 5,000 birds “isn’t a big number,” Driscoll said.

Human causes, such as fireworks, power lines, or a collision with a truck, may explain avian deaths, wildlife experts say.

Jim LaCour, a staff veterinarian for the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries, found that many of the birds showed traumatic injuries. Nearby power lines along the highway could be a factor, if the birds flew into them in darkness, according to the department.

Stephens said it may be a couple of weeks before the Arkansas commission gets results on what killed up to 100,000 fish in the Arkansas River, about 125 miles away from where the dead birds were found. Stephens said that disease may have caused the fish die-off, since they are all one species, the bottom-feeding drum.

The Arkansas events do not appear related, Stephens said.

Writing by Mary Wisniewski, with reporting by Tim Ghianni and Alister Doyle, Editing by Greg McCune