Thousands of Dead Birds Picked Up in Ark. Town

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Investigators are still trying to unravel a mystery in a central Arkansas town.

An estimated 2,000 red-winged blackbirds mysteriously fell dead from the sky over the weekend in the town of Beebe. The cause of their deaths is under investigation by state wildlife officials.

Mike Robertson, the mayor in Beebe, told The Associated Press the last dead bird was removed about 11 a.m. Sunday in the town about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock. He said 12 to 15 workers, hired by the city to do the cleanup, wore environmental-protection suits for the task.

Robertson said the workers wore the suits as a matter of routine and not out of fear that the birds might be contaminated. He said speculation on the cause is not focusing on disease or poisoning.

A scientist says the birds showed physical trauma, and speculated the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail.

But New Year's Eve revellers shooting off fireworks could have also startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress.

Several hundred thousand red-winged blackbirds have used a wooded area in the town as a roost for the past several years. The mayor and other officials went to the roost area over the weekend and found no dead birds on the ground.

Robby King, a wildlife officer for the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission, collected about 65 dead birds, which will be sent for testing to the state Livestock and Poultry Commission lab and the National Wildlife Health Center lab in Madison, Wis.

Rowe said similar events have occurred elsewhere and that test results "usually were inconclusive." She said she doubted the birds were poisoned.

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