The mysterious "rain" of 5,000 dead blackbirds that filled fields near Beebe, Arkansas, on New Year's Day — and inspired doomsday speculation — was likely triggered by ear-splitting fireworks, say officials. The explosions apparently startled the birds, which have poor night vision, causing them to fly fatally into buildings and trees. Still, say gloomy prognosticators, eight other incidences of strange animal deaths have occurred over the last few days:
1. 100,000 fish in Arkansas
A tugboat operator discovered hundreds of thousands of dead drum fish blanketing the Arkansas River on Dec. 30. While authorities say fish kills occur every year, it's odd that only one species was affected in this one. "If it was from a pollutant, it would have affected all of the fish, not just drum fish," said Keith Stephens of the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission. Officials suspect disease is to blame.
2. 100 tons of fish in Brazil
Brazilian news site Parana-Online reported that up to 100 tons of dead fish have washed ashore in the coastal towns of South America since Dec. 30, panicking the fishing community and leaving wildlife experts puzzled. The region's coordinator of Civil Defense, suggesting that an environmental imbalance or leaked chemicals might be the culprit, has discouraged Brazilians from ingesting the fish.
3. Millions of fish in Maryland
Cold water may also be the cause of death for an estimated 2 million fish in Chesapeake Bay. The fish, which normally migrate to warmer waters this time of year, began washing ashore last week. The Maryland Department of the Environment has admitted it's puzzled.
4. 500 birds in Louisiana
Hundreds of blackbird carcasses littered a quarter-mile stretch of road in Labarra, La., on Jan. 3 after they inexplicably fell from the sky. Authorities speculate that the birds may have hit power lines or buildings. State Wildlife Veterinarian Jim LaCour is not feeling apocalyptic, noting that there have been 16 similar mass blackbird deaths in the past 30 years: "It's not terribly unusual." (Watch a local report about the dead birds)
5. "A carpet" of snapper fish in New Zealand
Beachgoers at Little Bay and Waikawau Bay in New Zealand found "a carpet" of dead snapper floating in the water on Jan. 4, many of which were missing their eyes. The New Zealand Department of Conservation speculates that the fish starved because of bad weather conditions.
6. Hundreds of starlings and robins in Kentucky
A woman in Gilbertsville, Ky., reportedly woke to find dozens of dead birds in her yard on Jan. 4. "I've never seen anything like it," the woman said. "It's really creepy." A spokesman for the local Department of Fish and Wildlife confirmed that hundreds of birds, including grackles, starlings, and robins, had been found "scattered around" the town. The birds did not appear to have been poisoned or diseased, and show no signs of trauma.
7. 40,000 crabs in England
Thousands of velvet swimming crabs washed up dead on the shores of Kent in Britain on Jan. 5. Experts think cold weather might be to blame, as this has been the region's coldest December in more than 100 years. "It just goes to show that all animals are affected by freezing conditions — not just us humans," noted local resident Nicholas Branson in The Daily Mail.
8. Jackdaws in Sweden
Roughly 50 birds were found dead on a residential street in the Swedish town of Falkoeping on Jan. 5. The dead jackdaws showed no visible injuries, prompting veterinary officials to speculate about poisoning or disease. The BBC reports there were no loud fireworks or storms in the area that could have startled the birds.
SEE THE WEEK'S RELATED COVERAGE:
• Google's mass-animal-death map
• Arizona blackbirds: Is 2011's animal-death scare overblown?
• Why 5,000 blackbirds fell from the sky and 100,000 fish died: 5 theories