02 January 2011 12:41 pm ET
It has residents creeped out.
“Something out of a movie and Hazmat people are walking around not telling us anything,” said one.
“I’d like to know. Kind of spooky, you never know what’s going to happen,” said another.
Scientists are puzzled, but they don’t suspect any Hitchcockian paranormal activity.
As many as 2,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before New Year’s, according to a local news report. A scientist said the birds might have been stuck by lightning or hit with a hailstorm, or maybe they’re the victims of overzealous New Year’s even revelers. [The Strangest Stories of 2010]
It all started around 11:30 pm local time, just a half hour before the new year, according to the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission.
“Beginning at around 11:30 p.m., enforcement officers with Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC) began getting reports of dead black birds falling from the sky in the city limits of Beebe,” the agency said in a statement.
Officials estimate more than 1,000 blackbirds fell out of the sky over a 1-mile area in city before Dick Clark finished his countdown. Most were dead, but some were still alive when officers arrived, according to the statement.
“Shortly after I arrived there were still birds falling from the sky,” said AGFC wildlife officer Robby King, who collected about 65 dead birds that will be sent to the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission lab and the National Wildlife Health Center lab in Madison, Wis.
Agency officials later flew over the area and found no dead birds outside of the initial area.
AGFC ornithologist Karen Rowe said that strange events similar to this one have occurred a number of times across the globe. And in general, birds are often at the whim of weather. Birds are sometimes swept hundreds of miles from their normal range when caught up in hurricanes. In the Arctic, birds are known to die crashing into each other in heavy fog, while others perish when heavy winds slam them into cliffs.
Even fish can succumb to weird weather: Several instances of raining fish have been reported over the years, as one example, and scientists say tornado-like waterspouts could be to blame for those events.
A host of possibilities have been raised in the Arkansas bird mystery.
“The birds showed physical trauma and that the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail,” Rowe said. It’s also possible New Year’s Eve celebrators, shooting off fireworks, might have startled the birds from their roost and caused them to die from stress, Rowe speculated.
“Since it only involved a flock of blackbirds and only involved them falling out of the sky it is unlikely they were poisoned, but a necropsy is the only way to determine if the birds died from trauma or toxin,” Rowe said.
The necropsies — animal autopsies — will begin on Monday in an effort to determine the cause.