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What Killed Thousands Of Blackbirds In Arkansas?

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What Killed Thousands Of Blackbirds In Arkansas?

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What Killed Thousands Of Blackbirds In Arkansas?

What Killed Thousands Of Blackbirds In Arkansas?

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NPR's Melissa Block talks to George Pat Badley, the state veterinarian of Arkansas, about the 2,000 red-winged blackbirds that fell dead from the sky in Beebe, Ark., on Friday night. There is speculation about what killed the birds, and now a lab in Madison, Wis., is trying to find the answer. Theories as to what caused the slaughter include lightning or fireworks.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There is a bird mystery in Central Arkansas. Why did thousands of red-winged blackbirds fall from the sky just before midnight on New Year's Eve? The birds fell over a one square mile area in the town of Beebe.

George Badley is Arkansas' state veterinarian with the state Livestock and Poultry Commission lab. That's where they've been testing some of the bird carcasses. And he joins us now.

Welcome to the program.

Dr. GEORGE PAT BADLEY (Arkansas State Veterinarian, Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission): Thank you.

BLOCK: And, George Badley, what are you hearing about what happened in Beebe late Friday night?

Dr. BADLEY: Well, the preliminary report from the pathologist at our lab shows that all of the birds - the 17 that we did tests on - all had internal bleeding. And that seems to be the only problem that they had, which would mean that they had traumas of some sort.

BLOCK: And what would account for that, that kind of trauma that would lead to internal bleeding like that?

Dr. BADLEY: Well, I had given some TV interviews earlier, and we had a lot of thunderstorms going through that time, and I thought maybe they had got sucked into a thunderstorm. But I believe that I was wrong there, because at noon, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission got a report from an eyewitness in Beebe that there were a lot of birds perching in the trees in Beebe, a lot of the blackbirds, which they do. They perch in trees by big numbers.

BLOCK: They're roosting, right?

Dr. BADLEY: They're roosting. And apparently, they can't see well at night. So that kind of rules out the flying into the thunderstorm because they don't fly at night. And he said that there was - something made a loud noise like a cannon that went off several times, repeatedly, he said.

BLOCK: This was an eyewitness there in the town of Beebe who heard this noise?

Dr. BADLEY: That's - and he gave the report to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. And he said after the cannon went off a few times, he went outside and he could hear the sounds of wings flying low, which would have been the blackbirds, and running into things, like tree limbs and trees and even houses. That explanation goes along with what Dr. Britt found on his necropsy on the 17 birds.

BLOCK: The internal bleeding that you're talking about.

Dr. BADLEY: Yeah. And the bleeding would best be from blunt force trauma.

BLOCK: Mm-hmm. Now, this was just before midnight on New Year's Eve. Do you think it could have been firework explosions that startled the birds?

Dr. BADLEY: Well, they do set off fireworks in Arkansas on New Year's Eve. They have cannons that make a lot of noise. I mean, they have a firework that is called a cannon. They shoot it up in there and it makes a horrible noise. So...

BLOCK: Mm-hmm.

Dr. BADLEY: They also have things like they have around airports that are made to scare birds. I don't know which it might have been. We're still doing tests on the bird to rule out any disease or poison or anything like that, but we expect those probably to be negative.

BLOCK: And it was very localized, right? A lot of birds in a very small area.

Dr. BADLEY: Yeah. So that doesn't sound like a disease process at all. The thing of them being scared and running into things is much more plausible.

BLOCK: Well, Dr. Badley, thanks for talking with us. Appreciate it.

Dr. BADLEY: You have a good day.

BLOCK: Okay.

Dr. BADLEY: And happy New Year.

BLOCK: You too. Bye-bye.

Dr. BADLEY: Bye.

BLOCK: That's Arkansas State Veterinarian George Badley, talking about the death of thousands of red-winged blackbirds in the town of Beebe.

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