BEEBE, AR – It is nearing the end of fall and blackbird populations are ramping up in Beebe. Residents in one neighborhood say they don’t leave home without an umbrella, even if there isn’t a cloud in the sky.
At sunrise and sunset, hundreds of thousands of blackbirds take to the sky, giving the appearance of storm clouds over the town. It is a natural phenomenon to see in the south this time of year, but residents of Beebe still have to take precautions.
“We have to walk the dogs before [sunset], because it’s nasty,” says Edward Harrell. He and his wife Christa live in the Windwood neighborhood on the southwest side of town.
"If you walk when they're flying you might come home with spots on your clothes in your hair and everything. You can't look up, you might get something in your face or mouth,” says Christa.
The small town 40 miles northeast of Little Rock garnered national attention last January when thousands of dead blackbirds
were found littered across the town. Scientists eventually theorized that the birds were disoriented by a New Year’s fireworks show, began flying into things like houses, chimneys, etc., and died of “blunt force trauma.”
But the mass bird death, combined with the nearly 100,000 fish found dead
in the Arkansas River near Ozark a few days earlier, caused many to feel it was a sign of something worse.
Thurman Booth, the state Director of Wildlife Services, addressed speculation as to why the birds died, “the beginning of the apocalypse, the end of the world, the use of toxic agents, all kinds of frightening things. None of this happened and none of it is true.”
Now the birds are back, in increasing numbers, and some people are concerned.
"It's nothing to be afraid of anymore than any other wildlife," says Booth.
The blackbirds start arriving in November, reach their peak population in Arkansas in mid-January, and will be gone by March. “It’s not uncommon for Arkansas to have 50 million blackbirds,” says Booth.
While some residents are concerned about the birds and the mess they leave behind, Booth says he isn’t getting nearly as many frightened phone calls about the as people learn their presence isn’t uncommon.