FIREWORKS SUSPECTED IN DEATHS OF HAWAI‘I BIRDS

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By Walter Wright

HONOLULU, Hawai‘i (January 5, 2000 – Honolulu Advertiser)---Hundreds of birds found dead on Kailua Beach (Oahu) on Sunday and Monday may have been victims of smoke and noise from New Year’s Eve celebrations, veterinary experts said yesterday.

The state Department of Land and Natural Resources said its forestry division received a call about the birds from a Kailua resident, and several residents reported finding mynahs and sparrows strewn along the beach in the days after the celebration.

Some speculated that the birds may have been scared out to sea by the noise of the fireworks and perished there. But the more likely theory, experts said, is that the birds suffocated from the thick smoke caused by millions of firecrackers and fireworks.

The smoke, combined with the stress of the noise and lights, could have overcome many of the birds, which have respiratory systems more sensitive than humans, said Eric Ako, a doctor of veterinary medicine with The Pet Doctor clinic.

The total number of birds that died could not be estimated, and it’s not clear whether the deaths were limited to the Kailua area.

The dead birds in Kailua may be offering a warning to humans, said Sheila Conant, a University of Hawai‘i zoology professor.

"We’re not so much worried about these birds in the sense they are unique or endangered," Conant said yesterday. "But if these deaths were caused by fireworks, that should give us pause."

Financial planner Mel Hertz of Kailua said he was on Kailua Beach on Sunday morning and the dead birds "were just all along the beach. Not just here and there, but all over. I’ve lived in Kailua for 23 years, and I’ve never seen this before."

Paul Quistgard, an appraiser who lives in Foster Village, was with Hertz that morning.

"About every 20 feet or so was a dead bird washed up at the high-tide mark," Quistgard said. "They all appeared to be mynah birds . . . I would have guessed there were several hundred of them spread along the beach line."

Barbara Black, a census worker who lives in Kailua, said she saw dozens of dead Java sparrows on Kailua Beach during a walk Sunday, and said her husband saw more the next day. Black said she has kept some of the birds in her freezer in case a veterinary expert wants to do an autopsy.

DLNR spokeswoman Deborah Ward said yesterday that the department’s forestry division received a call about the birds but did not count them because many appeared to already have been picked up and disposed of by residents.

Ward said the department’s wildlife manager, Dave Smith, believes it’s possible that the noise of the fireworks and the smoke and the haze frightened the birds, which flew out over the ocean, then tired, hit the water and died, washing ashore a couple of days later.

Ward said there hasn’t been a similar event reported in the past.

Audubon Society board member Mary Faber of Kaneohe said she saw many birds fly out of trees and head seaward when fireworks went off near her Alii Shores home. "My theory is some of the smaller birds without large wing-spans flew out to sea and couldn’t get back," she said.

For additional reports from The Honolulu Advertiser, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Honolulu Advertiser.

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