State biologists continue to investigate the mysterious deaths of more than a dozen birds in the last week on Court Square in Harrisonburg.
Chaz Haywood, clerk of the Rockingham County Circuit Court, said 14 dead birds have been found around the courthouse.
“It’s pretty horrific when you look out out the window and see a bird fall from the sky,” Haywood said.
He said the first three were found last week and more kept dropping to the ground.
“We started getting people come in and say there’s a bird laying on the ground, and then we’d get another one,” Haywood said. “Certainly, something is going on.”
He said the variety of birds is alarming.
So far, he said, they have found American woodcocks, doves, a red-headed woodpecker and two yellow-breasted species.
Haywood said residents can get permits to kill birds in certain situations, but he checked with the state and no permits have been issued for the Harrisonburg area.
David Kocka, the area’s district wildlife biologist for the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources, picked up some of the birds Wednesday morning.
The frozen birds will be sent to a diagnostic lab at the University of Georgia in Athens, which is used by several Southern states.
Right now, he said, he doesn’t have any idea what might have caused the birds to drop dead.
“I don’t have any great answer. This doesn’t happen very often at all,” he said, adding finding a cause can be tricky. “It’s a needle in a haystack.”
He said possible reasons for the deaths can range from a virus to poison, but there are other possibilities.
If it is poison, it will be difficult to determine without having some knowledge of what possible poison to test for.
Unlike humans, he said, there’s no blood test that can be given that would show a high level of a specific toxin.
He said it’s unclear when the university might perform evaluations on the birds. However, if more birds in the area continue to drop, UGA would likely escalate the case.
Anyone who has had a similar experience of finding dead birds is asked to contact the Virginia Department of of Wildlife Resources.