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What's Killing Arkansas' Fish and Birds?

Tests underway to determine why birds tumbled from sky, fish floated dead.

ByABC News
January 3, 2011, 12:47 PM

Jan. 3, 2011 — -- Trauma as a result of thunder and lightning is being blamed for the death of thousands of blackbirds who rained down out of the Arkansas sky on New Year's Eve.

"There were multiple thunderstorms that night and for several days that week," said Dr. George Badley, state veterinarian for the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission. "Red-winged blackbirds fly in large groups and if they got pulled into a thunderstorm, likely lightning struck them. That would be my best guess."

Officials sent some of the carcasses of the red-winged blackbirds to Badley's Arkansas laboratory. The rest of the birds to be tested were taken to laboratories in Georgia and Wisconsin.

"Almost every one of them ... had multiple internal hemorrhages which would mean that it was trauma, not a disease process. Their stomachs were empty, which would rule out toxicity from eating some kind of poison grain," Badley said.

According to preliminary testing released late today, the trauma was primarily in breast tissue, with blood clots in the body cavity and internal bleeding. All major organs were normal and the birds appeared to be healthy, the tests found.

Blood and culture tests on the birds are still pending.

With just minutes to go before New Year's Day, dead birds began falling over Beebe, Ark., a town of 5,000 people located 40 miles northeast of Little Rock.

Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said that at least 2,000 carcasses of the birds were collected by the U.S. Environmental Services on Saturday and Sunday, but they believe that up to 5,000 birds actually tumbled from the sky.

It is very unusual for redwing blackbirds to fly after dark, because they have poor night vision.