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Thousands of dead birds and fish in Arkansas leave many scratching heads

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Maybe the Mayans were on to something?

That's surely what students of the famed Mayan 2012 prophecy for the end of the world had to be thinking with the news of recent eerie wildlife die-offs in Arkansas. Just as the calendar nudged a year closer to that fateful date, birds began falling from the sky in Arkansas and  a massive fish kill occurred some 125 miles to the west.

Roughly 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky over a mile of land near Beebe, a small town in northwest Arkansas, and observers spotted the fish kill near the town of Ozark.

No one seems to know just yet what caused the two die-offs. But theories abound.

In a statement Saturday morning, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission quoted staff ornithologist Karen Rowe as saying that such events have happened before around the world: "Test results usually were inconclusive, but the birds showed physical trauma and that the flock could have been hit by lightning or high-altitude hail."

Because it happened New Year's Eve, some officials suggest that revelers shooting fireworks may have spooked the birds, to the point that they died en masse from stress-induced cardiac arrest.

"It is unlikely they were poisoned," Rowe said, "but a necropsy is the only way to determine if the birds died from trauma or toxin." Tests were to begin Monday.

Meanwhile, wildlife officials say that the estimated 100,000 drum fish discovered by a tugboat captain over a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River appears to be a natural occurrence that isn't tied to the bird kill in any way.

"The fish kill only affected one species of fish," Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission told CNN. "If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish." He added that fish kills in the area are common, though this one was larger than most.

UPDATE: A state veterinarian tells NBC that preliminary necropsy results from several birds show that they died of "multiple blunt trauma to their vital organs," though what caused the trauma remains uncertain. According to Dr. George Badley, their stomachs were empty, so they weren't poisoned, and they died in midair, not upon impact with the ground.

By Brett Michael Dykes




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