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Birds dropping dead from the skies and rivers flowing with tens of thousands of dead fish sounds like a cheesy Hollywood movie about the Apocalypse. Or the ravings of a Revelation-obsessed street preacher.
But residents of several US states are coping with the reality of mystery mass wildlife deaths, which have left officials scratching their heads and jumpy members of the public joking (nervously) about the end of the world.
Today it emerged that about 500 red-winged blackbirds and starlings had been found dead in Louisiana. Their tiny corpses littered a short stretch of highway near the city of Labarre after apparently falling dead from the sky.
That would be spooky enough. But the Louisiana bird die-off came just a few days after up to 5,000 blackbirds fell to earth in neighbouring Arkansas in the small town of Beebe. Residents there had reported stumbling upon the bodies littering the ground and even being hit by them as they fell. One woman said she was struck while walking a dog. Another avian corpse bounced off a police car.
In even more grim news, anglers and other members of the public reported that more than 80,000 drum fish had suddenly died in the state's Arkansas river, about 100 miles west of Beebe. The silvery bodies of the fish floated in the river and washed up on its sides having died at roughly the same time. In another incident, hundreds of miles away on the Maryland coast of Chesapeake Bay, tens of thousands of dead fish also washed up on the shore.
At this time, there is growing concern that the numbers of dead birds and fish may point to environmental factors that may soon affect other species. Currently there are about 500 dead birds in Louisiana, 5,000 birds in Arkansas as well as reports of numerous dead birds in Kentucky.
Roughly 100,000 dead fish are littering the shores of the Arkansas River and the dying marine life in Chesapeake Bay is measured in the tens of thousands. While overly cold water and perhaps diseases are being blamed for the fish deaths, loud noises from fireworks are thought to be the culprits for the bird deaths.
Theories suggest that the birds got startled by the loud sounds, flew off their roosts in the dark, collided with objects and died from blunt force trauma.