The C.A.S.H. Courier Newsletter
Selected Articles from our
Spring 2011 Issue
On Another Note…
Red-Winged Blackbird Tragedy
When thousands of red-winged blackbirds dropped from the sky on New
Year’s Eve in the small Arkansas town of Beebe, townspeople and authorities
were at a loss to explain it.
A story in the New York Times two days later reported that the birds
began falling around 11 pm, “turning the ground nearly black.” A final count
found there were approximately 5000 casualties.
The Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission declared that the cause of
the birds’ death was “acute physical trauma.” Autopsies clarified it as
“blunt trauma to their organs.” As the blackbirds’ stomachs were empty,
poisoning was ruled out. The USDA, which commonly poisons large numbers of
blackbirds, starlings, and others, often at the behest of farmers, insisted
that they had not done so in this case.
The birds apparently died in mid-air, so they were likely startled out of
their roosts. Blackbirds do not normally leave their nests at night, so
something out of the ordinary must have occurred to make them panic.
Cornell University’s ornithology lab posited violent weather as the
culprit. Although a storm had hit Arkansas earlier in the day, it had mostly
passed Beebe by the time the birds died, according to a forecaster with the
National Weather Service in North Little Rock. Other experts suggested that
the birds could have been roused from their roosts by the violence of New
Year’s Eve fireworks. The extremes of noise and bright lights from the
multiple mini-explosions could have caused them to fly blindly into
buildings, concussing themselves.
The next day, in neighboring Louisiana, 500 grackles, blackbirds, and
starlings were also found dead.
At Wildlife Watch, we have long railed against the use of fireworks,
knowing they not only frighten domestic animals and wildlife, but can cause
injury and death. Whatever is determined to be the definitive cause of this
tragedy, there is no doubt that wild birds are in jeopardy from human
actions on a frightening scale.
Eileen Fay has been an environmental reporter for over twenty years. She
is Associate Editor and investigative reporter for the Wildlife Watch
Binocular and C.A.S.H. Courier..
Go on to Next Article
Back to Spring 2011 Issue
Back to C.A.S.H. Courier Article Archive