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Tests Underway to Determine Why Birds, Fish Died in Arkansas

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BEEBE, Ark.) -- Trauma as a result of thunder and lightning is being blamed for the death of thousands of blackbirds that rained down out of the Arkansas sky and over the city of Beebe on New Year's Eve.

"There were multiple thunderstorms that night and for several days that week," said Dr. George Badley, state veterinarian for the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission.  "Red-winged blackbirds fly in large groups and if they got pulled into a thunderstorm, likely lightning struck them.  That would be my best guess."

Officials sent some of the carcasses of the red-winged blackbirds to Badley's Arkansas laboratory.  The rest of the birds to be tested were sent to laboratories in Georgia and Wisconsin.

"Almost every one of them ... had multiple internal hemorrhages which would mean that it was trauma, not a disease process.  Their stomachs were empty, which would rule out toxicity from eating some kind of poison grain," Badley said.

According to preliminary testing released late Monday, the trauma was primarily in breast tissue, with blood clots in the body cavity and internal bleeding.  All major organs were normal and the birds appeared to be healthy, the tests found.  Blood and culture tests on the birds are still pending.

Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said that at least 2,000 carcasses of the birds were collected by the U.S. Environmental Services on Saturday and Sunday, but they believe that up to 5,000 birds actually tumbled from the sky.

Along with the birds, tens of thousands of drum fish were also found dead in the state.  The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said Monday that 83,000 drum fish died in the kill.

Just 125 miles from Beebe, dead drum fish began floating along a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near the town of Ozark last week.  Officials from the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said the fish kill and blackbird deaths are unrelated.

Some of the fish are being sent to Dr. Andrew Goodwin to be tested at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's Aquaculture and Fisheries Department.  Goodwin said that fish kills are fairly common.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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