LITTLE ROCK, AR (AP) - It was not a good year to be a bird in Arkansas. 2011 began with a bang, or, rather, lots of bangs as New Year's revelers set off fireworks that flushed thousands of blackbirds and sent them colliding into houses, cars and each other.
ARKANSAS (CNN)-- Arkansas officials are investigating the deaths of an estimated 100,000 fish and 5,000 birds in the state's northwest, according to a state spokesman Sunday night.
Dead drum fish floated in the water and lined the banks of a 20-mile stretch of the Arkansas River near Ozark, about 125 miles northwest of Little Rock, said Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. A tugboat operator discovered the fish kill Thursday night, and fisheries officials collected some of the dying animals to conduct tests.
Stephens said fish kills occur every year, but the size of the latest one is unusual, and suggested some sort of disease was to blame.
"The fish kill only affected one species of fish," he said. "If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish."
Ozark is about 125 miles west of the town of Beebe, where game wardens are trying to find out why up to 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky just before midnight New Year's Eve.
Arkansas game officials hope testing scheduled to begin today will solve the mystery.
The birds -- most of which were dead -- were red-winged blackbirds and starlings, and they were found within a one-mile area of Beebe, about 40 miles northeast of Little Rock, the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission said. Birds fell over about a one-mile area, the commission said in a statement.
As of Saturday, between 4,000 and 5,000 birds had been found dead, said Keith Stephens with the commission.
"Shortly after I arrived, there were still birds falling from the sky," said commission wildlife officer Robby King in the statement. He said he collected about 65 dead birds.
The commission said it flew over the area to gauge the scope of the event, and no birds were found outside of the initial one-mile area.
Karen Rowe, an ornithologist for the commission, said the incident is not that unusual and is often caused by a lightning strike or high-altitude hail.
A strong storm system moved through the state earlier in the day Friday.
"It's important to understand that a sick bird can't fly. So whatever happened to these birds happened very quickly," Rowe told CNN Radio on Sunday.
"Something must have caused these birds to flush out of the trees at night, where they're normally just roosting and staying in the treetops ... and then something got them out of the air and caused their death and then they fell to earth," Rowe added.
Officials also speculated that fireworks shot by New Year's revelers in the area might have caused severe stress in the birds. Rowe said Sunday there was evidence that large fireworks may have played a role.
"Initial examinations of a few of the dead birds showed trauma. Whether or not this trauma was from the force of hitting the ground when they fell or from something that contacted them in the air, we don't know," Rowe said.
The dead birds will be sent for testing to labs at the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission and the National Wildlife Health Center in Wisconsin.
The necropsies will begin today, Stephens said, and the findings should be available sometime this week.
The city of Beebe has hired U.S. Environmental Services to begin the cleanup and dispose of the dead birds, the commission said. The firm's workers will go door-to-door and pick up birds still in yards and on rooftops.
Information provided by: CNN Online