Friday, January 6, 2012

The return of Arkansas' mass bird deaths

By The Week's Editorial Staff | The Week – Mon, Jan 2, 2012

Ominously, scores of blackbirds once again fell from the sky above a small southern town on New Year's Eve. But this time, intentional mischief may be to blame

Here we go again? Last New Year's Eve, some 5,000 blackbirds dropped from the sky in Beebe, Ark., a small town about 35 miles from Little Rock. The subsequent media frenzy fueled plenty of dire apocalyptic theories. This weekend, the New Year once again brought scores of dead blackbirds to Beebe. Here, a concise guide to the seemingly eerie coincidence:

~ For the second New Year's in a row, flocks of blackbirds, disoriented by local fireworks, flew into buildings and trees, their dead bodies littering an Arkansas town.

Why did the birds die last year?
The conventional wisdom says: Fireworks. The celebratory explosions unexpectedly caused the birds to become disoriented and "fly all over the place," according to Arkansas officials. Birds slammed into buildings, telephone poles, and trees, according to state officials.

Why were blackbirds specifically afflicted?
They were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Beebe is home to a large roost of blackbirds. The birds, who don't usually fly at night, have poor vision in the dark. That makes them particularly vulnerable to mishaps after being unnerved by fireworks.

And this year?
Fireworks were again involved, but this year's spooking seems to have been premeditated. Officials say the roughly 200 dead birds appear to have been the victims of an intentional crime. "We know that there was evidence of fireworks set off in the middle of the roost, and it wasn't a coincidence," reads an Arkansas Game and Fish Commission statement. Indeed, says one resident. "We started hearing the fireworks going off, and some gun shots going off in the air, and it really seemed like people were trying to recreate last year's New Year's."

Does everyone buy that explanation?
No. Plenty of people are doggedly interpreting this year's incident as yet another sign of the apocalypse. Indiana pastor Paul Begley, for one, remains convinced that the bird deaths prove God is fulfilling the Hosea prophecy, in which humanity is punished for its many sins. "It's time to listen to the word of the Lord," he says.

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