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The Green Life: Falling Birds a Freaky End to 2010 in Arkansas

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January 04, 2011

Falling Birds a Freaky End to 2010 in Arkansas

Blackbirds As most people welcomed the new year, the people of Beebe, Arkansas, wondered whether the world was going to end.

Just before midnight on New Year's Eve, the small city northeast of Little Rock experienced the mass death of nearly 5,000 red-winged blackbirds. Landing on roofs, streets, and lawns, one of North America's most abundant bird species turned the ground nearly black.

"It just looked as if it had rained birds," said council member Tracy Lightfoot. "There's lots of theories running around. I have no idea. I just don't have a clue."

Initial tests found that the birds suffered internal injuries that formed deadly blood clots. Karen Rowe, the bird-conservation coordinator for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, mentioned one theory: that the birds were spooked by holiday fireworks and thrown off course.

"The blackbirds were flying at rooftop level instead of treetop level to avoid explosions above," she said. "Blackbirds have poor eyesight, and they started colliding with things."

Meanwhile, the commission spent New Year's Eve measuring and counting the 85,000 dead fish found along the Arkansas River just days before. Scientists don't believe the events are related, but the bird deaths remain a mystery: "There was probably some physical reason, but I doubt anyone will ever know what it was," said Arkansas Wildlife Services director Thurman Booth.

--Molly Oleson

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