It seems like everyone has an opinion on why all those blackbirds fell from the sky at Beebe on New Year’s Eve.
But not quite everybody. This writer doesn’t join the crowd on this particular issue. I don’t care to hazard a guess for the incident, and I hasten to point out that we may never know for sure what killed the 5,000 or so birds.
A major problem in investigating wildlife disasters like this is you can’t extract testimony from witnesses or survivors. The critters don’t talk.
Speculation is that fireworks may have panicked the birds into flying into objects or into the ground. Sure, it sounds possible. We don’t see or hear about measures used against problem birds, but the use of explosives — dynamite and such — takes place where enormous roosts are troublesome from two aspects. One is crop depredation. The second is histoplasmosis, a disease involved with large deposits of bird droppings.
The Conway area may have dodged a bullet some years back when the grove of trees on Hendrix College property near Interstate 40 was home to not thousands but millions of blackbirds. Yes, the birds moved elsewhere with some encouragement, and many or most of the trees are gone. Nature has taken care of what accumulated on the ground under the roosting birds.
In 1998 it was cattle egrets with some other birds mixed in that were a problem in the northwestern part of Conway. A roost was bulldozed, and young and injured birds floundered in yards all around. Other birds came back to roost in nearby trees, bringing out the pyrotechnics and other scare tactics. The cattle egrets left, thankfully.
The bald eagle die-offs of the 1990s took place around DeGray Lake, Lake Ouachita and Lake Hamilton in southwest Arkansas. Oh, the national media hammered Arkansas on this one somewhat similar to what is taking place with the Beebe blackbirds. But the best of the scientists in the nation, not just in Arkansas, could not come up with an answer beyond the deaths were cause by a previously known disease that affected brain tissue of the eagles.
And that answer didn’t come forth until a few years later when similar eagle deaths on a smaller scale occurred in North Carolina, South Carolina and Georgia.
Still, the Beebe bird deaths being attributed to shooting of fireworks on New Year’s Eve bothers many of us.
The birds died before midnight when traditionally the noise comes forth.
Fireworks are set off many, many places on New Year’s Eve, but we don’t hear of birds dying in massive numbers.
How about Fourth of July fireworks on Beaverfork Lake just north of Conway? Any birds found dead the next morning?
Around Air Force and Navy aviation training bases, sonic booms are routine. Do we hear of birds dying in these areas?
In the Beebe investigation, there is not agreement at this point on whether the birds died in the air and fell to the ground or flew into the ground and were killed. There does seem to be agreement that the deaths were by blunt force trauma and that the birds’ stomachs were empty, ruling out poison.
The bottom line is that we don ‘t know for sure what killed the Beebe birds and that possibly we may never know conclusively.