Lab supports theory that birds died from massive trauma - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Lab supports theory that birds died from massive trauma

MADISON, WI (RNN) - Tests performed by a Wisconsin lab support earlier findings that thousands of birds that dropped from the sky in Arkansas were killed by some sort of outside physical trauma.

According to necropsies performed by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, WI, the birds died from internal hemorrhaging caused from blunt-force trauma.

Fish also dead in AR

As if 5,000 dead blackbirds weren't enough to concern Arkansas residents, about 100,000 dead drum fish have washed up along the Arkansas River.

Keith Stevens, assistant chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), said a tugboat operator reported seeing the fish as he was going up river on Dec. 30. About 15 biologists descended on the area the next day to investigate.

Scientists think the fish kill was probably caused by a disease passed among the fish – and not by outside contamination – because the vast majority of dead fish are of the same species.

"If it would have been something like that … It would have dissipated pretty quickly and it would have killed all the fish," Stevens said.

Specimens were sent to the University of Arkansas for testing, and results will be released in the next few weeks.

These back-to-back incidents have left Arkansans concerned. Little Rock resident Kathryn Medlock said she hopes the tests show that the wildlife deaths are coincidental, and not part of a larger environmental issue.

"Arkansas is the Natural State," Medlock said. "And, as a state, we do a considerable amount to maintain the surrounding beauty."

Preliminary tests indicate the birds did not die from a variety of pesticides that were tested, although additional tests for chemical toxicity and infectious disease are still pending, according to a statement from the National Wildlife Health Center.

The results support the findings released Monday by the Arkansas Game Fish Commission (AGFC). The 17 birds tested there were free of disease, but showed signs of internal bleeding and tissue damage.

"The trauma was primarily in breast tissue, with clots in the body cavity and internal bleeding," according to a statement released by AGFC.

The birds were "normal," with empty gizzards and stomachs, indicating that poisoning was not likely.

The red-winged blackbirds falling from the sky were first reported by residents of Beebe, AR, at around 11:30 p.m. Friday, New Year's Eve. Estimates place the number of dead birds at between 4,000 and 5,000.

Media and internet reports have been abuzz all week with speculation on the cause of the birds' deaths. Everything from heart attack, to environmental poisoning to hail was named as a likely culprit. One CNN viewer said she thought a UFO was to blame.

However, AGFC ornithologist Karen Rowe said mass bird-kills are not all that uncommon. They have been reported at various times worldwide. About 500 dead birds were reported in Louisiana on Monday.

Deepening the mystery is the fact that blackbirds do not normally fly at night. They spend the day eating and were roosting in trees before they took to the sky and fell to the ground.

The birds favor rural areas, where they can easily feed. Beebe, a small town 32 miles northeast of Little Rock, AR, has ample wheat and rice fields on which they can feed, said Keith Stevens, assistant chief of communications for the AGFC.

The mystery leaves many local residents scratching their heads and more than a little uneasy. Little Rock resident Kathryn Medlock said she was eagerly awaiting the results of the tests.

"The mystery surrounding the death of thousands of birds remains a huge concern, in my opinion," Medlock said.

Robertson said he does not believe the birds' deaths are any type of "freak accident."

So far, all test results are preliminary. 

Dr. George Bradley, Arkansas state veterinarian, said the birds could have been startled by something – possibly fireworks – and simply flew into each other or some other fixed object, such as a house, trees or even straight into the ground. Tests in Wisconsin indicate the same thing.

"There were multiple hemorrhages in all of them," Bradley said. "If that initial crash didn't kill them, their hitting the ground would have been the final hoorah."

The city of Beebe contracted with the U.S. Environmental Service, a private company, to clean up the carcasses. Workers from the company arrived to start the cleanup at about noon on Saturday, according to Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson.

The workers, dressed in full hazmat gear, went door-to-door collecting dead birds from yards, streets and rooftops.

"Shortly after I arrived there were still birds falling from sky," said Robby King, an AGFC wildlife officer.

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