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UGA researcher: Mass bird kills not uncommon
Animal casualties around world unrelated
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The mass bird deaths that occurred in Arkansas on New Year’s Eve are quite ordinary and are not suspicious, according to researchers from various environmental and veterinary groups across the nation.
Blunt trauma is expected to have played a role in the recent mass bird deaths, said Dr. Kevin Keel, who works as a veterinary pathologist in the College of Veterinary Medicine at UGA.
Keel, a Bradwell Institute graduate, said he can only comment on the submissions of dead birds they have received from Arkansas and Louisiana.
“Mortality events happen all the time in various bird species.  The significance is in the size of the population that is affected, the frequency and the number of animals that die,” Keel said. “The different events that have received attention recently probably do not have a common factor.”
Keel said that there was a large black-bird roost in the vicinity of where the mass deaths occurred, so there were a lot of birds in the location at that time. Birds that are found dead as a result of blunt trauma usually died from an impact with man-made structures, such as wind turbines, buildings and houses, the researcher said.
“We are continuing to investigate the case to rule out predisposing factors, such as toxins, that might have affected their behavior and put them at risk for such an event,” he said. “We do not currently see any indication that infectious disease or toxicosis was involved, but we routinely test to rule these factors in or out.”
According to assistant state veterinarian for the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission, Dr. Brandon Doss, all the tests on the Arkansas birds have come back as “blunt force trauma with massive internal hemorrhaging.”
Doss said all the testing for bacterial, toxins and tissue samples came back negative for poisoning or other health issues.
But the search continues for answers about why these deaths across the nation and world have happened around the same time period.
Researchers from the U.S. Geological Survey scientists have also done extensive testing on the dead birds that fell in both Arkansas and Louisiana.
“Although wildlife die-offs always pose a concern, they are not all that unusual,” said Jonathan Sleeman, director of the USGS NWHC in Madison, Wis., which is completing its analyses of the Arkansas and Louisiana birds. “It’s important to study and understand what happened in order to determine if we can prevent mortality events from happening again.”
The species included in the mass deaths in both states comprise about 500 red-winged blackbirds, common grackle, European starling, brown-headed cowbird in Pointe Coupee, La. and about 5,000 red-winged blackbirds, common grackle, European starling in White, Ark, Keel said.
Other reports of fish, crabs and other birds dying in various states and countries have sprung up in the past few weeks as well — including one mass bird death as recently as Jan. 9.
“It is not end of days; I can tell you that for sure,” said Andrew Hughan, public information officer for the California Department of Fish and Game, during a telephone interview.
Hughan said a flock of about 1,000 starlings was hit by traffic along Highway 101 in California and it isn’t uncommon to see birds get killed by vehicles — especially ones that have “flocking behavior,” meaning they travel in groups to hunt bugs and migrate.
A necropsy — an animal autopsy — was conducted on six birds Wednesday and the cause of death for all was blunt trauma, Hughan said. More tests will be completed by a national laboratory as well.
In Maryland, an estimated 2 million small fish found dead in the Chesapeake Bay died of natural causes earlier this month, according to a Jan. 5 news release from Maryland Department of the Environment.
Extreme drops in water temperature are to blame, according to the MDE investigation that is under way.
“There’s no connection whatsoever,” Hughan said of the bird and wildlife deaths around the nation and world. “It truly is coincidence.”

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