Friday, December 30, 2011

TOP STORY >> Beebe: Blackbird capital

Leader staff writer

Beebe, with a population less than 8,000, is known across the nation and, to a lesser extent, around the world, for the dead blackbirds that rained from the sky on New Year’s Eve 2011.

The official cause of the death of 5,000 blackbirds, according to tests conducted by three laboratories, was blunt-force trauma. The birds, which can’t see in the dark, were flushed from their roost by fireworks and flew into each other, trees and buildings and died.

Those who didn’t see the birds falling learned about the problem when they either woke up on Jan. 1 to dead birds in yards and streets or saw workers in white hazmat suits picking them up.

It’s New Year’s Eve again, and Mayor Mike Robertson, who asked the city council a year ago to approve a $12,000 expenditure for dead bird removal, said he hopes the incident is not repeated.

But he knows it’s possible.

Shooting fireworks is not against the law in Beebe. But Robertson said he hopes people use caution, especially in the Windwood area, where an estimated 1.5 million blackbirds roost every winter, about one tenth of the nation’s estimated 15 million blackbirds.

To promote the use of common sense, Robertson said he has asked for heavier police patrol in the area.

If you haven’t seen the birds yet, they are a sight worth seeing, whether they are going to their roost or leaving, the mayor says.

“It’s more amazing to watch them leaving in the morning at about six,” he said. “It’s like a big tornado, and it goes on and on.

“There are so many of them bumping into each other as they’re trying to leave. It just takes a little bit of watching them to see how this happened.”

The mayor believes that re-moving the trees where the birds roost to develop the area will force them out eventually.

Walmart has workers conducting dirt studies on 20 acres of the 70 acres owned by the Hayes family for the purpose of building a store there. The mayor said the intention is to develop the entire 70 acres over time.

In the meantime, he asks residents in the area to stop shooting fireworks after the birds go to roost.

Fortunately, tests conducted on the dead birds showed that they were not a danger to anyone. And if it happens again, cleanup will not require an expensive hazmat team, he said.