Thousands of birds dropped from the sky in a small US town for the second New Year in a row; experts believe fireworks scared birds
For one small Arkansas town, New Year's Eve 2010 brought a media frenzy and unwelcome prophesies of the apocalypse.
The mysterious deaths of 5,000 blackbirds, which plummeted from the night sky, led to 12 months of intrigue and a National Geographic documentary.
As December 31, 2011 approached, the residents of Beebe were understandably apprehensive -- then it started happening again.
Just as the town's New Year's Eve parties were getting under way, birds began falling out of the sky. Jacob Landrum, a resident of the town said he had been driving through the middle of town towards the Church of Christ when the falling birds startled him.
"The birds were all over the parking lot and in the road on the way here," he said. "It's kind of a strange thing two years in a row."
One of the favoured theories from last year's avian catastrophe centred on fireworks. Some animal behaviourists suggested the loud noises and bright lights of several large displays marking the new year may have startled and disoriented the birds.
As soon as reports came in that birds were plummeting to their deaths once again, Beebe police department imposed an impromptu ban on fireworks. The six or seven officers on duty leapt into their patrol cars and toured the town interrupting parties and looking for Catherine wheels and rockets.
"They just had to stop people shooting any more off," said Jeremy Weeks, a police officer in Beebe, although he confessed it was unclear whether the pyrotechnic ban had helped.
"I have absolutely no idea why it happened again," he said. "I saw dozens of them on the ground as I was driving into work."
Paul Begley, a pastor at the Community Gospel Bapist Church in Indiana, had his own theory.
"I was doing a live broadcast talking about bible prophecy and the end of the world," he said. "And the birds started falling out of the sky again. Where's Stephen King? He can't even write a script like this, this is God." It is unknown exactly how many birds died this year as the clean-up operation is still under way, but Horace Taylor, Beebe's animal control officer, said his office had picked up at least 80 dead blackbirds.
Post-mortem examinations carried out by the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission last year revealed acute physical trauma in samples of the dead blackbirds, which suggests they were killed on impact with the ground rather than dying in mid-air. No sign of poison or disease was found as theories continue to abound on the mass fatality events.
Kevin McKinney, a Beebe resident, claimed something else must have been happening. "Fireworks going off all night and all day -- no problems!" he said. "But when the birds started dying, I had my compass out: it went crazy, spinning and unable to find north."