From dead birds to the not-so-common nutria, northwest Tennessee facing its share of mysteries

From dead birds to the not-so-common nutria, northwest Tennessee facing its share of mysteries

Posted: Tuesday, January 18, 2011 9:04 pm
By: Kevin Bowden, Staff Reporter

From dead birds to the not-so-common nutria, northwest Tennessee facing its share of mysteries | From dead birds to the not-so-common nutria, northwest Tennessee facing its share of mysteries

By KEVIN BOWDEN
Staff Reporter
A couple of wildlife mysteries cropped up in Obion County over the weekend.
Scattered on and alongside South First Street at the city limit marker in Union City were more than 70 bird carcasses Monday morning.
About 23 dead birds were found flattened on the roadway near Union City’s welcome sign and another 48 dead birds were scattered on the east side of the roadway.
The mysterious bird deaths mirror similar incidents earlier this month in Alabama, Arkansas, California and Louisiana.
It was during New Year’s weekend in Beebe, Ark., just northeast of Little Rock, that an estimated 5,000 blackbirds were found dead on the ground. Wildlife officials there offered their explanation that the birds were startled by New Year’s Eve fireworks and they ran into low lying structures such as chimneys, houses and trees, according to the Associated Press.
Another report of mysterious dead birds came out of the Pointe Coupee Parish in Louisiana in early January. An estimated 500 dead birds were found there, according to the Associated Press.
California wildlife officials say more than 100 birds found dead near a highway in Sonoma County earlier this month were likely hit by a truck, according to the Associated Press.
Also in early January in Athens, Ala., some 300 dead blackbirds were discovered along the side of the road off I-65 in north Alabama, according to the Associated Press.
Tennessee State Parks regional naturalist David Haggard offered one possible explanation for the dead birds in Union City. He said sometimes grain trucks will spill corn along the roadside and birds then gather around the food supply. The birds can then fall prey to passing vehicles, he said.
He said his explanation was pure speculation and there could be other reasons explaining the dead birds.
In February 2009, Pleas-ant Valley residents in Union City faced mysterious dead bird problems of their own, with about 1,000 bird carcasses collected from the yards of Dr. Travis and Linda Shumate, Al and Michelle Creswell and Dr. John and Pam Clendenin and another unidentified neighbor.
Representatives of Ten-nessee Wildlife Resources Agency and the Department of Agriculture office in Jackson arrived at the Shumate home and investigated, taking samples back with them to try to unravel the mystery. Neighbors in Pleasant Valley said they never received an adequate explanation of the occurrence.
Meanwhile, local Reel-foot Lake guide Josh Choate came across another interesting find over the weekend — a nutria. He was out Saturday on Reelfoot Lake when he came across a rather unusual animal.
“I thought it was a beaver,” he said. “I was going to shoot it and eat it.”
Well, he did shoot it, but what he thought was a beaver turned out to be a large rodent with beaver-like teeth, webbed rear feet and a long slender tail — a nutria. (See related photo, above.)
This mystery can be traced to South America and the import of the beaver-like mammals to Louisiana.
“They’ve been here for years,” Haggard told The Messenger Monday.
Choate works at West Tennessee Aviation in Union City and his nutria caused quite a stir among his co-workers.
WTA owner Gordon Wade checked out the mammal on the Internet and learned it originated in Argentina and was imported to the United States through Louisiana for its fur. Some of the animals escaped and found their way up the Mississippi River, which explains why the mammals have been sighted around Reelfoot Lake.
“They’re like a muskrat on steroids,” Haggard said.
He said he first saw one of the nutrias in the late 1980s, and that while they are rare they can be found around Reelfoot Lake.
The nutrias are vegetarians and eat primarily lily pads and their roots, according to Haggard. They are not a serious threat to the indigenous wildlife at Reelfoot Lake.
“They don’t really displace native animals,” he said, adding that there hasn’t been a serious population explosion of the nutrias to cause concern among local wildlife officials.
Staff Reporter Kevin Bowden may be contacted by e-mail at kmbowden@ucmessenger.com.

Published in The Messenger 1.18.11

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