RADFORD – A flock of American robins fell from the sky and died Thursday on the campus of Radford University, and wildlife experts say it will likely be weeks before the cause is known.
More than 50 birds died, and two survived and are being held in quarantine at the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center (SVWC) in Roanoke.
Students of wildlife biologist Dr. Karen Powers, a professor at Radford University “discovered a huge flock of birds, some already dead and some floundering on the ground, and quickly alerted Dr. Powers about the situation,” according to the SVWC.
There were only two survivors, which will be kept “in strict quarantine at the center, just in case of a pathogen.” The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources is investigating the incident and will be testing the birds to determine the cause of death.
“After an hour, the two survivors are now lively and doing well with no noticeable injuries, symptoms, or odd behavior,” the SVWC posted. “The quick recovery of survivors and the pre-death symptoms of the birds who died are not consistent with avian flu, and there is no reason to suspect that at this time – although the birds will be checked just in case. While we don’t know for sure the cause of these sudden deaths, we do know American robins are susceptible to poisoning due to their natural history and are sometimes used as a measure of environmental health because of this trait. Another theory is that these birds died due to intoxication. Robins primarily eat fruit in the winter, and cycles of freezing and thawing like we’ve had this winter can cause berries to ferment. When birds eat fermented berries, they can accidentally become drunk—or worse, suffer alcohol poisoning and die.”
The Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources has informed the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center that it may take a while to run all the tests they need to run to get a conclusive answer on the cause of death.
“It’s always sad to see that many dead animals, but we’re glad at least two of them will get a second chance at life,” the wildlife center said. “Thank you to Dr. Powers and her students for such a quick and organized response to the dire situation.”