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© Gary Crow/MNR
Nearly 100 dead birds were seen by several travelers east of Hwy 69 and 69a junction south of Picher Friday evening.
Several people in the area reported seeing a large amount of dead blackbirds, most estimates around 100, on the highway between Commerce and Quapaw near Picher over the weekend.

According to Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation Information and Education Supervisor Micah Holmes, the most likely cause of the birds' demise was natural causes or weather-related issues during their migration. Holmes said his department did not receive any reports of this specific bird kill incident, which occurred on Highway 69 and 69A south of Picher on Friday evening.

"We call them all blackbirds, but actually there's four or five different species of birds in these big flocks; Grackles, Starlings, Red-Winged Blackbirds, Cowbirds and Brown-Headed Cowbirds," Holmes said. "They're migrating from the south to the north this time of year to nest. They're in these big flocks and you see them now and in the Fall. It can be a stressful time of year for them because they're traveling hundreds and thousands of miles and weather changes can stress them out."

Holmes said migration alone can take its toll on these large flocks of blackbirds.

"That is the most likely thing that is going on here, these birds are migrating through and some of them die," he said. "The next most likely thing is they are migrating through and they got caught in a bad storm. If they flew through hail that can certainly be pretty bad on them because they've got hollow brittle bones and if they got hit by one large sized hail that's it."

Image
© Gary Crow/MNR
Nearly 100 dead birds were seen by several travelers east of Hwy 69 and 69a junction south of Picher Friday evening.
Holmes said the birds are more susceptible during migration to things that they wouldn't normally be during other times of the year.

"Sometimes people call us and say, 'Hey, there are dozens of dead birds below this tree.' It's really sad because they get diseases, they're old, they get stressed out, they're flying these long distances, there's lack of food and while dozens of birds on the ground is sad, it is part of nature," he said.

According to Holmes, these large bird die offs don't usually affect the overall bird population because of the enormous size of most blackbird flocks containing thousands of migrating birds.

Although not as common, severe weather conditions such as lightning or hail can also cause harm to the birds when migrating.

"Especially when they're migrating through and they're weakened, they don't know where to go and they're flying into the storm," Holmes said.

Another possibility is some type of exposure to chemicals for agricultural or other use, but Holmes said this possibility was unlikely.

"The Department of Ag can issue permits for poisoning or depredating birds that are a nuisance, but mainly that's going to be around airports, shopping centers or urban areas," Holmes said.