BATON ROUGE, Louisiana --- Blackbirds are having hard time staying alive in the Southeast.
Just a few days after 3,000 blackbirds fell from the sky in Arkansas, about 450 birds dropped to their death in Louisiana, littering a quarter-mile stretch of highway near Baton Rouge.
Louisiana s state wildlife veterinarian says at least some of the birds that died may have flown into a power line.
Jim LaCour said Tuesday the grackles, starlings, brown-headed cowbirds and red-winged blackbirds had broken beaks and backs. He says some live birds had broken wings but ran too fast to catch.
In the small town of Beebe in central Arkansas, scientists said celebratory fireworks on New Year s Eve likely sent thousands of discombobulated blackbirds into such a tizzy that they crashed into homes, cars and each other before plummeting to their deaths.
The blackbirds rained onto rooftops and sidewalks and into fields. One struck a woman walking her dog. Another hit a police cruiser. Some say an umbrella was one resident s only protection from the falling birds.
Birds were littering the streets, the yards, the driveways, everywhere, said Robby King, a county wildlife officer in Beebe, a community of 5,000 northeast of Little Rock. It was hard to drive down the street in some places without running over them.
A few stunned survivors stumbled around like drunken partiers.
There was little light across the countryside at the time, save for the glimmer of fireworks and some lightning on the horizon. In the tumult, many birds probably lost their bearings.
The blackbirds were flying at rooftop level instead of treetop level to avoid explosions above, said Karen Rowe, an ornithologist with the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Blackbirds have poor eyesight, and they started colliding with things.
Shane Roberts said it sounded like hail pelting his house.
I turn and look across my yard, and there s all these lumps, Roberts said.
His 16-year-old daughter, Alex, spent Saturday morning picking them up with her bare hands. Their legs are really squishy, she said.
For some people, the scene unfolding shortly before midnight evoked images of the apocalypse and cut short New Year s celebrations. Many families phoned police instead of popping champagne.
I think the switchboard lit up pretty good, said Beebe police Capt. Eddie Cullum. For all the doomsdayers, that was definitely the end of the world.
Paul Duke filled three five-gallon buckets with dead birds on New Year s Day. They were on the roof of the house, in the yard, on the sidewalks, in the street, said Duke, a suspension supervisor at a nearby school. A few dead birds still littered town streets Monday. The city hired an environmental company that got rid of the dead birds. The disposal company declined to talk to reporters.
Some 360 miles to the south of Beebe, Louisiana state biologists were investigating a similar bird die-off. The Advocate reported that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings fell from the sky Monday in Point Coupee Parish, near the city of Labarre. It was not immediately clear if the mysterious mass bird deaths were linked.
Wildlife officials in both Arkansas and Louisiana were sending carcasses to researchers at the National Wildlife Health Center in Madison, Wis. and the University of Georgia.
The birds were the second mass wildlife death in Arkansas in recent days. Last week, about 83,000 dead and dying drum fish washed up along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River, about 100 miles west of Beebe. Wildlife officials say the fish deaths are not related to the dead birds, and that because mainly one species of fish was affected, it is likely they were stricken by an illness. Full test results could take up to a month.
The U.S. Geological Service s website lists about 90 mass deaths of birds and other wildlife from June through Dec. 12. Five list deaths of at least 1,000 birds and another 12 show at least 500 dead birds.
The largest was near Houston, Minn., where about 4,000 water birds died between Sept. 6 and Nov. 26 from infestations of various parasites.
Red-winged blackbirds are among North America s most abundant birds, with somewhere between 100 million and 200 million nationwide, according to the Cornell Lab of Ornithology in Ithaca, N.Y.