4 and 20 blackbirds, and 3,000, baked in the sky?

New Year’s revelers in a small Arkansas town were enjoying midnight fireworks when they noticed something other than sparks falling from the sky: thousands of dead blackbirds tumbling out of the darkness to the ground.

The red-winged blackbirds rained onto rooftops and sidewalks and into fields. One struck a woman walking her dog. Another hit a police cruiser.

In Beebe, a community of 5,000 northeast of Little Rock, birds were “littering the streets, the yards, the driveways, everywhere,” said Robby King, a county wildlife officer. “It was hard to drive down the street in some places without running over them.”

In all, more than 3,000 birds inexplicably dropped dead. Now scientists are investigating whether bad storms, fireworks or poison might have brought the flock down, or if a disoriented bird simply led the group into the ground.

A few stunned birds survived the fall and stumbled around like drunken revelers. There was little light across the countryside, save for the glimmer of fireworks and some lightning on the horizon.

For some people, the scene evoked images of the apocalypse and cut short New Year’s celebrations. Many families phoned police instead of popping champagne.

No one knows for sure why the flock died.

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