BEEBE, AR (RNN) – On the list of speculated causes for why 5,000 birds fell from the sky just before midnight on New Year's Eve, "trauma" from running into each other wasn't one of them.
Dr. George Bradley, Arkansas state veterinarian, said Monday preliminary tests of 17 dead red-winged blackbirds indicated they all died from trauma - not heart attack, environmental poisoning or hail.
Fish also dead in AR
Birds weren't the only wildlife dying in Arkansas as the new year began.
Keith Stevens, assistant chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), said between 80,000 and 100,000 freshwater drum fish were found dead along the Arkansas River.
Stevens said that a tugboat operator reported seeing the fish as he was going up the river Wednesday. About 15 biologists and eight boats were sent the next day to investigate.
Stevens said the scientists believe the fish kill was caused by a disease passed among the fish – and not by outside contamination - because the vast majority of dead fish were 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," he said.
Stevens said there are no reports of other fish deaths at this point. 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 Arkansas residents concerned.
"The mystery surrounding the death of thousands of birds remains a huge concern, in my opinion," said Kathryn Medlock, who lives in Little Rock, AR.
Medlock said she is hopeful the testing will continue to support the theory that the wildlife deaths were unrelated, freak occurrences, 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. "
"There were multiple hemorrhages in all of them," Bradley said.
Speculation about the cause of death varied widely in media reports Monday. One CNN viewer thought the deaths were caused by UFO.
The cause appears to be much simpler: Bradley said blackbirds cannot see well at night, and they were likely running into "stuff" in the midst of the fireworks blasts New Year's Eve.
The birds feed during the day and roost at night, said Keith Stevens, assistant chief of communications for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC). Stevens said the birds were possibly startled by the noise of fireworks and flew into one another, a tree or a house.
"They probably ran into something," he said. "If that initial crash didn't kill them, them hitting the ground would have been the final hoorah."
And according to Beebe Mayor Mike Robertson, it doesn't take much to disturb the birds from their roosting patterns.
There was no sign of disease in the birds, but that has not be ruled out, Bradley said. Complete results will "take up to a week" to come out.
"I don't expect them to show anything," he said, indicating that the birds were unlikely to have been poisoned.
The dead birds were first reported about 11:30 p.m. Friday, New Year's Eve. Experts first estimated the number of birds dead at 1,000, but those estimates have been increased to between 4,000 and 5,000.
Nancy Ledbetter, chief of communications with the AGFC, said Monday morning that her agency was leaning toward death "due to fireworks."
Monday's results came from tests at the Livestock and Poultry Commission in Little Rock, AR. A second necropsy is being performed at the National Wildlife Health Center Lab in Madison, WI.
Stevens said Monday's results are a "preliminary finding," with more information coming out in the next few days.
The bird-kills are not unusual, said Karen Rowe, an AGFC ornithologist. Red-winged blackbirds favor rural areas, where they can easily feed. Beebe, a small town 32 miles northeast of Little Rock, AR, has ample agricultural fields featuring wheat and rice.
"Shortly after I arrived there were still birds falling from sky," said Robby King, an AGFC wildlife officer.
King collected 65 of the dead birds to be sent as lab samples.
The U.S. Environmental Services, a private company, has been contracted by the city of Beede to clean up the birds. Workers in hazmat gear have been going door-to-door to collect birds from yards and rooftops.
Representatives from the company could not be reached for comment Monday but Robertson said that they acted "very quickly" and "very professionally."
Planning for the cleaning process began at 3 a.m. Saturday, and the crews began working at about noon that day, cleaning the majority of affected residences by that night. Additional homes and school grounds were cleaned Sunday.
The city paid for the services in order to prevent liabilities or illness.
"We thought it would probably be in our best interest to have the crew come in and do that," Robertson said.
Robertson said he also does not believe that the bird deaths are "any type of freak accident."
Adding to the mystery is the fact that the blackbirds, who spend the day eating, were roosting in trees before they took to the sky and fell to their deaths.
Stevens said that the deaths happened over a 1-square-mile residential area.
The AGFC press release said no dead birds were discovered outside of that area.
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