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No one knows why more than 200 red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in South Jersey.
Just ahead of Thanksgiving, scores of dead birds rained down on Cumberland County. It was the second time in less than a month that saw birds mysteriously die, with a similar incident occurring in a North Jersey farming area earlier this year.
“They just fell from the sky,” New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection spokesperson Larry Hanja told philly.com.
Following the most recent incident, DEP’s division of Fish and Wildlife cleaned up the birds and collected some to send off to the state lab for necropsy, toxicology and histopathology tests.
“We did ascertain that the birds suffered trauma and internal bleeding from hitting the ground,” Hanja told the news outlet. “But what made them fall from the sky in the first place … we can’t say for certain.”
Hanja said experts still can’t fully rule out pesticide poisoning, but testing on wheat seeds from a nearby farm also yielded no answers.
The seed had been treated with the fungicides difenoconazole, mefenoxam and sedaxane as well as the insecticide imidacloprid, but none of those chemicals are harmful to birds, Hanja told philly.com.
This isn’t the first time birds have rained down on New Jersey — in 2012, a die-off of blackbirds in Millville was traced back to a farmer’s legal use of an avicide. Thanks to their large population, no permit is required for farmers or other landowners to poison blackbirds if they’re causing damage.
Similarly in Beebe, Ark., up to 5,000 red-winged blackbirds fell from the sky in December 2010. Experts speculated the New Year’s fireworks scared them into flying at night — and being poor flyers in the dark lead them to fly into homes, cars and power lines.
But a lack of answers has Cumberland County residents worried the most recent occurrence.
“Out in the country like this, you find dead stuff lying around all the time … but this was kind of weird,” resident Debbie Hitchner said.
The 32-year-old Jersey resident told philly.com she found half a dozen dead blackbirds in the backyard of her home off Frank Davis Road.
“My dog just kept finding them,” she said, “one after the other.”