Monday, January 08, 2007

Dead birds in Austin = downtown closures

Has anyone heard or read more details about bird carcasses on Congress Avenue that prompted a 10-block shutdown in Austin this morning?

Emergency workers donned yellow hazardous-material suits, and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances were parked nearby, as they began testing for any sort of environmental contaminant or gas or chlorine leaks that might have cause the bird deaths.

There were no reports of any people harmed. A 10-block stretch of the main north-south route through downtown was blocked off as were several side streets and all buildings in the area. They were expected to remain off-limits until about noon, said police spokeswoman Toni Chovanetz.

"There is no credible intelligence to suggest an imminent threat to the homeland or Austin at this time," said Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke.

Homeland Security, the Department of Health and Human Services and state authorities are monitoring the situation, he said.
UPDATE: Sixty pigeons, sparrows and grackles were found dead on Congress Avenue. Preliminary air-quality tests didn't reveal dangerous chemicals, and the 10-block area reopened after noon.

Experts at the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society said the most likely cause was a deliberate poisoning of the troublesome grackles, which is more common than people think. It's also legal, with local permits, said Greg Butcher, director of bird conservation at the Audubon in Washington.

Austin officials were smart to take it so seriously, though, Butcher said, because birds' "requirements for life are pretty similar to our requirements for life" so they can serve as an early warning for risks to human health.

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