The residents of a Missouri town awoke to find more than 1,000 dead birds and feathers everywhere earlier this week.
Gwineth Pearson, who lives in Sikeston, Missouri, told CNN affiliate KFVS that she came home Monday to her grandfather cleaning up the feathery mess.
“He said, ‘Well, there’s just a ton of dead birds everywhere,’” Pearson told KFVS. “He picked up about 60. He had trash bags just full of dead birds.”
Scott County Conservation Agent Andrew Mothershead estimated there were more than 1,000 dead birds, he said in a statement on Facebook. The reports of birds dying started Sunday night, he said, when thunderstorms with heavy rain, lightning and strong winds rolled through the town, according to the National Weather Service in Paducah, Kentucky.
Mothershead and Kevin Brunke, a natural history biologist for the Missouri Department of Conservation, went to the scene to investigate what happened to the birds. Sikeston is in the southeastern corner of the state, near the Missouri-Kentucky state line.
They found multiple dead red-winged blackbirds, grackles, European starlings and brown-headed cowbirds in the fields, Mothershead said. There were also many birds who were injured and still alive.
After looking at the condition of the dead and injured birds and considering the weather, Mothershead said he thinks the birds got in trouble during the severe weather.
“I believe it’s reasonable to conclude that the flock spooked during the weather event, and were caught up in high winds or lightning,” Mothershead said in a statement. “As birds couldn’t recover in flight, many fell to the ground and perished or became injured.”
Mothershead said it is rare for birds to be victims of the weather, but it’s likely what happened in this case.
“I’ve seen it happen with waterfowl when we’ve had hail come through … extremely remote areas out of the public eye,” Mothershead told CNN on Friday. “I have seen weather kill birds before but it’s pretty rare to happen in the middle of a pretty big town.”
Sikeston has about 16,000 residents, he said.
Some residents started seeing birds fall from the sky and hearing them hit the ground, Mothershead said.
There are no public health concerns regarding the birds, an animal control official said.
“There’s no need to wear masks or breathing apparatuses,” Sikeston’s animal control supervisor Jamie Williams told KFVS. “Just simply put on some gloves and pick the birds up and place them in the dumpster.”
Residents cleaned up some of the mess themselves and the city of Sikeston also helped with the effort, Mothershead said.
Some of the dead birds were taken to the Missouri Department of Conservation for analysis, which has not yet been released, he said.