A Moment of Science

Where Have All the Dead Birds Gone?

Besides after hearing a thud on your newly cleaned window, have you ever found a dead bird in your lawn? Why is it so unusual?

a cat leaps up to  trap a bird

Photo: Andrew Currie

One reason is because most birds don't die from old age, they're killed and eaten by predators such as other birds and other animals, especially cats.

Assuming that most birds have pretty short life spans, what happens when they die? How come we don’t see thousands of bird carcasses lying around?

First, how many birds are there? Given that birds migrate, it’s difficult to come up with an exact number for any one location, but it’s safe to say that the number of birds in the United States numbers in the billions.

Although some birds have long lives, most birds that you see, like sparrows and finches, live only a few years.

Which does make you wonder, if so many billions of common birds are dying on a regular basis, why don’t we see them piling up on our lawns?

One reason is because most birds don’t die from old age, they’re killed and eaten by predators such as other birds and other animals, especially cats. Another reason is that birds migrate, and many die along the way and end up in rivers, lakes, and oceans.

Of course, some ex-birds do end up on your lawn. If you find one before the neighborhood predator does, don’t touch it with your bare hands. Birds, even dead ones, often carry viruses and bacteria that can make people sick.

To deal with a dead bird, wear plastic or some other type of protective gloves to touch the bird. If you’re the sentimental type, you can bury it. If not, put the bird in a plastic bag, bag it again, and then throw it away with your regular garbage.

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