Dead birds in Austin, Texas: Canaries in the mine?

8 January 2007: Commuters into the heart of downtown Austin, Texas early today were faced with closure of a ten-block area in the center of the city’s business district, blocked by emergency workers in bright yellow hazardous-material suits and dozens of fire trucks and ambulances. The reason for the closure was the discovery of about 100 dead birds of various types along Congress Avenue, a main route through downtown Austin, and adjacent streets. The birds appeared to have simply “fallen dead from wherever they were perched or even in midflight,” said one police official to the Northeast Intelligence Network. “It is surreal, like the birds in this general area were exposed to something that instantly killed them where they were. They fell to the ground, primarily on Congress Avenue not too far from the capitol,” added the official. The street closure stretched from just outside the Capitol to a section of the Colorado River known as Town Lake. The Capitol opened on schedule Monday, the day before the legislative session was to begin.

“A 10-block stretch of Congress Avenue, in addition to quite a few adjacent streets, have been closed. The buildings in that area have also been closed and are ‘off limits’ until further notice,” stated this police official. While officials are publicly stating that they “do not feel there is a threat to the public health,” at least one police official, in contact with the Northeast Intelligence Network, expressed his concern privately. “It’s like a canary in a mine, when the canary dies, you know you’ve got trouble,” he said, asking not to be identified by name of agency. “Right now, there are officials looking at the possibility of a fast-acting airborne gas disbursed during the night in this general area. There are no chemical plants here or close that would seem to account for some kind of gas - it almost seems like if it was a gas, and that is what they are thinking now, anyway, it had to have been released here, along this route. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I don’t want to again,” he added.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security spokesman Russ Knocke said officials had no credible information to suggest “that there is any imminent threat to the city.” According to news reports, officials are testing for any sort of environmental contaminant or gas or chlorine leaks that might have cause the bird deaths. According to these reports, the tests on the dead birds would likely take several days.

Meanwhile, a mysterious odor of gas moved across Manhattan early this morning, but reportedly dissipated rapidly. At least one person was taken from a New York City high rise and was hospitalized. No other injuries or affects to birds in New York has been reported.