Expert: Storm likely killed thousands of birds

January 3, 2011 12:18:37 PM PST
Scientists are wondering whether fireworks or poison may have caused thousands of birds to fall from the sky in Arkansas. But one expert is sure it was the weather.

Experts are investigating the deaths of more than 3,000 blackbirds that fell to the ground over a 1.5 square-mile area near Little Rock, just before midnight on New Year's Eve.

Residents of the small town of Beebe awoke to find dead blackbirds on homes, cars and lawns. Cleanup crews wore protective suits, gas masks and rubber gloves as they spent the holiday weekend gathering the carcasses.

The director of Cornell University's ornithology lab says the most likely suspect is violent weather. He says thousands of birds were probably asleep in a single tree when a "washing machine-type thunderstorm" sucked them up into the air, disoriented them, and even fatally soaked and chilled them.

A forecaster says rough weather had hit the state earlier Friday, but the worst of it was already well east of Beebe by the time the birds started falling.

Researchers in three states will be examining the remains of the birds for clues.