Melissa Pinion-Whitt, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 05/29/2008 11:20:03 PM PDT

LAKE ARROWHEAD, CA – When the mud swallows migrate from South America every spring, they quickly fill up nests under the eaves at Rim of the World High School. They mate, snap up insects and lay their eggs before heading back south in the fall.

School staff are used to seeing a couple of dozen dead baby birds every school year. But what the school saw early Thursday was far from normal.  It’s become a mystery that may not be solved for weeks.  A coach strolling along a wing of classrooms around 7 a.m. saw not a couple dead birds, but around 100. Most were juveniles and adults.

"He called administration immediately," said Rim of the World High School Principal Steven Byerly.

Byerly said custodial staff wearing gloves and using trash grabbers picked up the birds, which were spread around about 60 percent of the campus. They placed them in bags and handed them to San Bernardino County Vector Control personnel.

The dead baby swallows normally found around the campus under the classroom eaves every year either fall out of or are pushed from nests. School staff became concerned Thursday when they noticed the dead birds were older and that there were so many.

County public health officials suspect the birds may have been exposed to poison, but it is unknown where they came in contact with it. Byerly said students are not exposed to any health risk.

The West Nile virus is not believed to be the cause for the birds’ deaths, said Margaret Beed, health officer for San Bernardino County Department of Public Health.

"It would be unusual to have that many (West Nile-infected) birds just drop dead suddenly in one place," she said. "We’re going to test for West Nile, but we don’t think that’s what it is at this point."

If the virus is present in a community, many birds exposed to it never become ill. If they do, people may see a couple of birds dead from the virus in one place, Beed said.

There are other infections such as botulism or salmonella that can be fatal in birds. Health officials plan to send a couple of the birds to a state lab for testing. If poison is the culprit, health officials still don’t believe students or staff are at risk.

"It was more likely something (the birds) got into and ate, and it’s unlikely that the kids will come in contact with it," Beed said.


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