Hundreds of dead and dying birds littered a quarter-mile stretch of highway in Pointe Coupee Parish on Monday as motorists drove over and around them.
State biologists are trying to determine what led to the deaths of the estimated 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings on La. 1 just down the road from Pointe Coupee Central High School.
The discovery of the dead birds — some of which were lying face down, clumped in groups, while others were face up with their wings outstretched and rigid legs pointing upward — comes just three days after more than 3,000 blackbirds rained down from the sky in Beebe, Ark.
Necropsies performed Monday on the birds in Arkansas showed the birds suffered internal injuries that formed blood clots leading to their deaths, The Associated Press reported.
In Louisiana, biologists with the state Department of Wildlife and Fisheries spent part of the day Monday scooping up some of the birds in Pointe Coupee Parish to be sent for testing at labs in Georgia and Wisconsin.
The remaining carcasses were still on the roadway, on the shoulder and in drainage ditches Monday afternoon as some motorists sped past, flattening birds lying in the roadway, while other drivers slowed down to gawk.
State Wildlife Veterinarian Jim LaCour said he planned to drive to Pointe Coupee to pick up some of the bird carcasses to study.
Lab tests could take several weeks to come up with an explanation for the deaths, and LaCour declined to speculate on possible causes; however, he did say massive bird deaths have been known to occur in the state in the past, albeit in smaller numbers.
“Underlying disease, starvation and cold fronts where birds can’t get their body heat up” have caused similar occurrences “in various species over the years,” he said.
LaCour said some of the bird samples will be sent to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Wildlife Center in Wisconsin for analysis.
USGS spokesman Paul Slota said Monday afternoon he was unaware of the mass deaths in Louisiana, but he expects bird samples taken from the Arkansas occurrence on New Year’s Eve to arrive Tuesday in Wisconsin.
Slota also declined to speculate on a cause for the deaths, but he said a search of USGS records shows there have been 16 events in the past 30 years involving blackbirds where at least 1,000 of the birds have died seemingly all at once.
“These large events do take place,” he said. “It’s not terribly unusual.”
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