It’s time for me to weigh in on the bird happenings in Beebe. I mentioned this in my first post of 2011 – two months ago. But this past week National Geographic Channel spent four days in town filming a segment of a documentary about wildlife deaths around the globe, bringing a camera crew and an ornithologist, a bird expert, with them. This has caused citizens to revisit the mystery again.
When 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky on December 31, 2010 within a one mile area of the Winwood neighborhood, questions abounded. Men in hasmat suits picked up the birds while telling the residents all was well. Early theories were: lightening struck the birds; a mighty wind shear drove them to the earth; freezing temperatures aloft caused the birds to die from hypothermia; and they were offed by chemtrails.
“The chemtrail conspiracy theory holds that some trails left by aircraft are actually chemical or biological agents deliberately sprayed at high altitudes for a purpose undisclosed to the general public in clandestine programs directed by government officials. The existence of chemtrails has been repeatedly denied by government agencies and scientists around the world, who say the trails are normal contrails. The US Air Force maintains that the theory is a hoax . . .” (Wikipedia)
Within days the official cause of death was named. Blunt force trauma. Well, the birds did hit the ground after all. But what made them fall? The next projection was that the trauma happened when the birds panicked and flew around bumping into houses, trees, telephone poles and each other. So the question arose, why did they go berserk and leave their roost in the middle of the night, fly into each other and fall onto rooftops, into hedges and bushes and into the middle of the street? “They” had an answer for that, too. Fireworks. The birds were frightened by the New Year’s celebratory popping sounds in the neighborhood. Not your daddy’s firecrackers – industrial strength fireworks. Loud.
Now here’s where I have to suspend disbelief. First of all, a friend who lives in the neighborhood and had a yard full of dead birds on January 1 heard no such mammoth fireworks. Every July 4 is filled with rockets and Roman candles with never a report of injured birds. Also, each fall the Beebe Badgers play football not far from the trees where blackbirds sleep. Several times each Friday night (if we’re lucky) there is a cannon shot when the home team scores. That boom bothers my dog, a quarter mile away, but so far as I know it has never frightened a bird out of its roost.
But on the other hand, regarding the bumping into each other theory, I have noticed that blackbirds don’t fly very well. They don’t line up like geese, say, and choose a leader and proceed in an orderly manner. Nor do they travel alone or in small groups like robins or martins that arrive in your yard singly or in pairs. Blackbirds gang up and take off and go every which way. It’s kind of like watching NASCAR . . . with wings. And I suppose, just like NASCAR, they could run into each other.
Here are some odd bits of information learned this week: One tenth (10%) of all the blackbirds in the United States live in Beebe, Arkansas; PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) wrote a letter to the Beebe City Council requesting they make it illegal to ever shoot fireworks in Beebe (residents are allowed to use fireworks to celebrate Independence Day and New Year’s Day) lest there be more bird deaths; the council “ignored” the request; dead birds are still found occasionally in the yards of Winwood residents. The theory around this last item is that the birds were injured in the big smash up and (after having survived 10 inches of snow in February) are now dying sixty days later.
As a local writer commented, “It will be interesting to see if their (NatGeo Channel) filming here will bring any more clarity as to what actually happened.” (Lee McLane, The Beebe News) However, the consensus of those who took part in my limited, unscientific survey (my friends and co-workers) is, “We’ll never know. It will be like those goings-on in New Mexico in the Fifties or the assassination of John F. Kennedy.” Many people have so little faith in the media or government officials at every level to tell the truth that they doubt everything that is said. And that’s just sad.
[photo by Thomas Hudson, Arkansas Democrat Gazette]