Dead birds in Arkansas: Lightning, hail, or just fireworks?

Officials are still trying to determine exactly what caused nearly nearly 3,000 red-winged blackbirds to tumble from the Arkansas sky on New Year's Eve.
Tuesday, January 4, 2011; 11:51 AM

New Year's Eve in Arkansas took a bizarre turn as thousands of dead blackbirds fell from the sky, alarming residents. As AP reported:

Environmental service workers finished picking up the carcasses on Sunday of about 2,000 red-winged blackbirds that fell dead from the sky in a central Arkansas town.

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.

The birds had fallen Friday night over a 1-mile area of Beebe, and an aerial survey indicated that no other dead birds were found outside of that area. The workers from U.S. Environmental Services started the cleanup Saturday.

(VIDEO: Bizarre bird mystery puzzles Arkansas officials)

Speculation mounted quickly as to possible causes for such large numbers of birds to fall from the sky, and AP reported several carcasses were sent to be tested in government labs:

The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission says laboratories in Arkansas, Georgia and Wisconsin will examine some carcasses starting Monday. Results could be back in a week.

Commission spokesman Keith Stephens says the birds fell in an area about a mile long and a half-mile wide. Commission ornithologist Karen Rowe says the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail, or may have been startled by fireworks.

Our Capital Weather Gang was on hand to discuss the widely discussed theory that lightning caused the deaths, reporting that:

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) is reporting the birds likely died as a result of booming noise, perhaps fireworks, in central Arkansas Friday. The noise may have incited a bird frenzy causing them to fly into houses and trees. The WSJ story states storms weren't in the area when the birds died. On the other hand, the radar shows storms departing the region between 9 and 10 p.m. central time. The birds reportedly started falling from the sky around 11 p.m.

There is a precedent for lightning-related bird deaths in Arkansas. According to the Associated Press, lightning killed ducks at Hot Springs in 2001 and hail knocked birds from the sky at Stuttgart in 1973 on the day before hunting season.

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