Saturday 27 May 2017

2,000 birds fall dead from the sky

A worker with United States Environmental Services removes a dead bird from a home in Beebe, Arkansas (AP)
A worker with United States Environmental Services removes a dead bird from a home in Beebe, Arkansas (AP)
Dead birds lie on the ground in Arkansas (AP)

Environmental service workers in the US have been picking up the carcasses of about 2,000 red-winged blackbirds that fell dead from the sky in a central Arkansas town.

The birds had fallen on Friday night over a one-mile area of Beebe, 40 miles from Little Rock, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area.

The workers from US Environmental Services started the clean-up on Saturday, and confirmed the last dead bird was removed at 11am on Sunday morning.

Beebe mayor Mike Robertson said workers wore protective suits for the removal as a matter of routine and not out of fear that the birds might be contaminated.

He said speculation on the cause of the birds' deaths is not focusing on disease or poisoning.

Several hundred thousand red-winged blackbirds have used a wooded area in the town as a roost for the past several years, he said. The mayor and other officials went to the roost area over the weekend and found no dead birds on the ground.

"That pretty much rules out an illness" or poisoning, the mayor said.

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

The commission said that New Year's Eve revellers launching fireworks could have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress.

Robby King, a wildlife officer for the commission, collected about 65 dead birds, which will be sent for testing to the state Livestock and Poultry Commission lab and the National Wildlife Health Centre.

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