Monday, January 3, 2011

Fowl Play: A Mystery for the Ornithologists

Shortly before midnight this past New Year’s Eve, at least 1,000 red-wing blackbirds are believed to have suddenly, and eerily, died while in flight. Upwards of 5,000 bird carcasses have been collected by the end of New Year’s Day, from the streets to people’s rooftops. The birds all collapsed and perished within a span of one mile between each other in Beebe, Arkansas, a small town of just under 5,000 residents approximately 40 miles northeast of Little Rock. The massacre has given the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission a morbid, albeit not uncommon, investigation to pursue as this new year unfolds.

As soon as this story made breaking news, a laundry list of explanations were given for the birds' mysterious death, ranging from a lightning strike or high-altitude hail to UFOs, as one CNN viewer saw it. (People still believe in them?) However, the growing consensus for this phenomenon is that the birds died from massive trauma caused by flying into themselves, other hard objects, or simply crashing to the ground because they were startled by fireworks in the area.

This conclusion, if corroborated, certainly presents an unusual circumstance. I never knew fireworks could cause such severe trauma for a whole flock of birds, ultimately leading to their untimely deaths. I’ve heard of fireworks blowing off people’s arms and blowing away people’s mailboxes, but never being the demise of a substantial number for a whole species. For this, there’s bound to be a whole new set of questions to answer. What kinds of fireworks triggered this outcome? And if these fireworks were elaborate and caused all this trouble, should they be banned? Or were the birds, like many unfortunate victims, simply in the wrong place at the wrong time?

Either way, trying to sort this whole mess out could turn into a real can of worms for concerned citizens once living innocently in this podunk town.

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