Bemused citizens of Arkansas, U.S.A awoke on New Year’s Day to see thousands of blackbirds had plummeted out of the sky in the middle of the night.
Reports started coming in from the small town of Beebe at approximately 23:30 New Year’s Eve. According to the Arkansas Fish and Game Commission (AFGC), the red-winged blackbirds, most of which were dead, did not appear to be poisoned as the incident only occurred in a small area and no dead birds were found outside of a 1 mile radius. However, the AFGC has not yet fully determined the cause, but sent approximately 65 dead birds to the state Livetock and Poultry Commission laboratory and the National Wildlife Health Centre for analysis. The commission pointed to lightning, high-altitude hail and tornados which passed through the state around New Year as possible causes, though preliminary results show that the birds died of blunt force trauma. Celebratory fireworks being released near a local roost could also have caused the blackbirds to become spooked and stressed, which would explain why the birds showed signs of physical trauma. However, Mike Robertson, mayor of Beebe, along with officials from the commission found no dead birds on the ground at the roost.
Some have estimated the tumbling birds to be between 2 and 5 thousand in total and U.S authorities hired a specialist waste-disposal firm to collect and dispose of the dead birds. The firm started work in protective suits on Saturday and confirmed that the last dead bird had been removed by 11am Sunday 2nd January.
In a separate and believed to be isolated incident, approximately 500 birds fell from the sky in Louisiana a few days later. These were a mixture of red-winged blackbirds, brown-headed cowbirds, common grackles and European starlings. Scientists have not yet established a cause for either of the incidents which happened nearly 400 miles apart, although officials say the incidents are not connected and are still carrying out an investigation.