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USGS blackbird tests support earlier findings

BEEBE - Results from preliminary testing released Wednesday by the U.S. Geological Survey's National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis., show that red-winged blackbirds died from blunt force trauma on New Year's Eve. The report supports preliminary findings from the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission released Monday.

Full diagnostic necropsies performed on the birds at the NWHC lab revealed internal hemorrhaging. Tests for an array of pesticides were negative; results are pending for additional chemical toxins and infectious diseases.

It appears unusually loud noises, reported shortly before the birds began to fall, caused the birds to flush from a roost. Additional fireworks in the area may have forced the birds to fly at a lower altitude than normal and hit houses, vehicles, trees and other objects. Blackbirds have poor night vision and typically do not fly at night.

Beginning at about 11:30 p.m., Dec. 31, Arkansas Game and Fish Commission wildlife officers received reports of blackbirds falling from the sky in a square-mile area of Beebe. It's estimated that up to 5,000 birds fell before midnight. Most of the birds were dead, but some were alive when officers arrived.

The AGFC flew over the area in a helicopter to gauge the scope of the event. No dead birds were found outside the initial area of fallen birds.