Tuesday, January 03, 2012

TOP STORY >> Birds pull town together

Leader staff writers

The number of dead blackbirds that fell in Beebe on New Year’s Eve was down dramatically from last year, about 450 instead of 5,000, but this time, officials say they have evidence that the birds were killed after fireworks were deliberately set, causing them to fly into each other.

Last year, someone reportedly shot a large rocket near the bird roost by accident. The birds flew up in such numbers that the flush was caught on weather radar and when they tried to return to the roost in the dark, they crashed into each other, buildings and trees and died from blunt-force trauma.

Milton McCullar, who works as the city’s code-enforcement officer, said he was helping Police Chief Wayne Ballew patrol the Windwood neighborhood near the roost in an attempt to stop the fireworks when someone set a large, multi-charge unit on a two-by-four in such a way that it angled into the trees where the birds roost.

The two-by-four and spent fireworks were found on Macy Lane in a section of Windwood that is under development, McCullar said.

McCullar said he had been at that location shortly before the fireworks were set off, but he left to try to locate fireworks from another part of the subdivision and ask those shooting them to stop.

Beebe Animal Control officer Horace Taylor spent Sunday morning picking up dead birds in the city like he did last year. He said the city began receiving calls about dead birds a little after 7 p.m. on New Year’s Eve.

Beebe has one of the largest blackbird roosts in the world.

Mayor Mike Robertson declared a temporary ban on fireworks soon after.

Taylor worked until 3 a.m. at the request of the mayor, who wanted the streets kept clean. Taylor said he picked up around 320 birds during the weekend. A game warden picked some of the birds up on Saturday for testing to determine the cause of death.

Last year, the city hired a hazmat team to pick up the dead birds at a cost of about $12,000.

Lula Ensign of 204 Pine Drive had five dead redwing blackbirds in her yard on Sunday. Last New Year’s Day she had 35 birds.

“I didn’t see them last night, but I found two this morning. I don’t understand. It is unusual. (The blackbirds) are just everywhere. The trees are full.”

During the fall and winter, an estimated 1.5 million blackbirds flock to Beebe to roost in the trees in the Windwood subdivision and in the field along West Center Street, soon to be developed into retail center.