'unusual' mass deaths of birds in two states
By Josh Levs, CNN
Posted Wed Jan
Reports of mass bird and fish
deaths are coming in from Louisiana and Maryland, and
around the world.
(CNN) -- Some of the nation's top experts Tuesday were
looking for clues into sudden, mass deaths of birds in two states over
New Year's weekend.
"This one is unusual because of the time period over which so
many birds died," said LeAnn White, a field investigator with the
National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wisconsin. The center,
part of the U.S. Geological Survey, is receiving samples from
Arkansas, where as many as 5,000 red-winged blackbirds and starlings
fell from the sky in a square-mile area in less than an hour on New
Year's Eve, according to the Arkansas Fish and Game
The center will also examine samples from Louisiana, where 500
red-winged blackbirds, starlings and grackles were found dead in
A preliminary report
conducted Monday by the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission
found that the birds in Beebe, Arkansas, likely died from massive
There had been
reports of loud sounds in Beebe before the reports of birds falling
began to come in. It's possible the sounds made the birds disoriented,
and they went into sudden, chaotic flights, crashing into each other
and into objects, White said. "You're disturbed, you're
disoriented, you're trying to figure out where you are. We have seen
some stuff like this before when there's heavy dense fog, and they'll
run into towers and power lines," she said.
Other bird experts agree that that's a likely explanation. Still, the
sudden deaths are quite unusual. "It's kind of a freak event,"
said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation for the National
Audubon Society. "You just don't see these kinds of mass deaths
very frequently at all."
At this time of year, blackbirds are in huge roosts, particularly
throughout the southeastern United States, he said. They generally
don't fly at night.
"In the course of a year, about half the birds that are around
die -- even under the best circumstances. The life of a bird is
brutish and short. But it just usually happens out of the sight of
people," said Butcher.
It's possible that the loud sound that triggered the incident was New
Year's Eve fireworks, though officials said the investigation is
"If it had been any other day of the week," Butcher said, he
might have suspected people to be behind the deaths. "There's a
lot of purposeful killings. ... People really don't like these big
roosts. But I can't see anybody doing that on New Year's
Doug Inkley, senior scientist with the National Wildlife Federation,
said his "first suspicion is that they were frightened and went
into a mass panic."
"I would call this event unusual," he said, "but not
Keith Stephens, a spokesman for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission,
said the birds showed evidence of trauma in the breast tissue, with
blood clots in the body cavity and a lot of internal bleeding. All
major organs were normal.
Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the commission, said such incidents
can be caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail. A strong
storm system moved through the state earlier in the day
The experts CNN spoke with saw nothing surprising in there being a
similar report of bird deaths in Louisiana. "It's another one of
those coincidences," said White, adding, "I'm really
interested to see if there's anything that could possibly be related.
I asked about weather conditions there. There's sometimes
high-altitude hail." But, she said, so far officials were not
aware of "any strange weather patterns" in the
Butcher, with the National Audubon Society, said there may be more
reports of dead birds found around the country. "As soon as one
of these things hits the airwaves, people are just more sensitive to
seeing dead birds around."
Meanwhile, Arkansas officials are investigating the death of an
estimated 100,000 fish in the state's northwest, but suspect disease
was to blame, a state spokesman said Sunday.