Slightly morbid bird question
September 17, 2008 10:10 AM   Subscribe

Why do you never see dead birds in the city? I live in the city and close to water. My surroundings are full of ducks, swans, pigeons (yich) and gulls. Yet I never see one dead, except maybe if it was run over by a car. Why is that? Is there some secret bird cemetery they go to to die? Surely the gutters should be full of dead pigeons or something. God knows there's enough of them around. Or are they eaten by insects in record time? Disclaimer: I do not have an actual wish to see dead birds. I've just been wondering about this since forever.
posted by Skyanth to Science & Nature (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I live in New York City (outside of Manhattan), and there have been a LOT of dead birds in my neighborhood lately. I'm not sure why- I'm guessing it's the stray cats killing them, but I really don't know.
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 10:14 AM on September 17, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Same reason you don't see too many in the country: nature is set up to quickly handle small deaths (I'm talking size, not subjective importance of an animal). You've got top-level animals like cats and dogs who might find it, and bring it to their home to gnaw on. Whatever they leave will be devoured by smaller animals, ants, etc. (And keep in mind Joe Human might see it on their stoop and dispose of it.)

Come to the rural parts and watch how quickly a dog-size animal gets devoured by the circle of life.
posted by fijiwriter at 10:16 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

You are probably overlooking a lot of them too. A trampled mangled pigeon corpse blends into the landscape.

Also possible is that they become bird zombies.
posted by ian1977 at 10:18 AM on September 17, 2008 [7 favorites]

The rats get them, I would imagine.
posted by casarkos at 10:19 AM on September 17, 2008

Crows are also big scavengers of the dead.
posted by Class Goat at 10:20 AM on September 17, 2008

Best answer: Cecil Adams' answer is here. Summary: old and sickly pigeons find hiding places to curl up and die in while scavengers (including insects) and city sanitation crews make short work of the ones that happen to die in exposed areas.
posted by mhum at 10:22 AM on September 17, 2008

Oddly, I just saw an ex-sparrow, outside my apartment complex. But you're right, given the number of birds around, there really aren't many ex-birds, or zombie-birds (though I've started to keep an eye out!).

Cecil Adams addressed this a while back and pointed out that (a) as fijiwriter pointed out, nature plays a role, and (b) old and feeble birds tend to hide away from predators, and so die out of sight.
posted by CruiseSavvy at 10:24 AM on September 17, 2008

I'm in NYC and see 'em all the time. In fact, if you're eager to see one Gate 224 at Port Authority has had the same mummified pigeon carcass hanging in the ceiling for about two years.
posted by blaneyphoto at 10:28 AM on September 17, 2008

I see dead birds fairly often. A lot of times it's roadkill (yich), of which I see more when I'm out riding my bike. I see migration fatalities occasionally (whether it's exhaustion or a window collision), including warblers and, once, a black rail in downtown Chicago. Birds that become prey will be dragged to a remote place to be consumed undisturbed.* Birds that die of disease or from complications from a minor injury will tend to seclude themselves, and scavengers will quickly take of the remains.

*A friend of mine used to work high up in the AMA Building. Peregrine falcons would bring their catch to the ledge outside their office windows to rip it apart and feast.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:29 AM on September 17, 2008

Seconding the Cecil Adams article.

Not to mention our old friend confirmation bias. I have seen a lot of dead birds in the city now that I think about it. Its just a forgettable event. I'm sure if you looked for dead birds you would find plenty.
posted by damn dirty ape at 10:36 AM on September 17, 2008

I saw a pigeon literally fall out of the sky one day while stopped at a light in downtown Austin. One second it was flying over the street, the next it was dead on the asphalt.
posted by kaseijin at 10:52 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Funny, I've always thought cities were full of dead birds. I see them all the time - they seem to be continually flying into windows and then dropping dead in front of me on the sidewalk.
posted by meerkatty at 11:42 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I see dead birds all the time in Austin and Houston, TX. I mean, not all the time, but at least one a week. Over the course of college at UT-Austin I found a few sick pigeons and took them to shelters. When I was a kid I saved a baby grackle from drowning in our apartment's swimming pool -- it had fallen out of its nest on a branch that overlooked the pool. When I lived in Newport News, VA for a few months, I saw a dead duck corpse in the pond near my apartment. I dunno. I see more dead birds than I care to, personally. Maybe you have strange luck?

Anyway, when birds get sick they tend to huddle away somewhere and do not usually do much flying unless spooked into it. They're probably not dying places where you would see them. Also, as far as pigeons go, in the city they usually roost on the outsides of buildings, and whoever attends to the leaf-blowing and picking up trash outside the building usually has to deal with dead animals (mainly birds and squirrels) too. I've noticed that I see more dead birds early in the morning. Also, you'll see more bird corpses after bad storms.

Another factor is that cats get to bird corpses quickly. One time I was burying a dead bird I had found, and I turned to the side for a moment to grab my shovel. The moment I turned back, a cat had come out of nowhere and nearly gotten hold of it. (I was a little kid so I chased the cat off instead of letting him have it.)

Man, I never realized how much I know about dead birds until this post. I must sound like a weirdo.
posted by Nattie at 11:48 AM on September 17, 2008 [1 favorite]

I once helped clean up a church that'd been hit by a tornado. There were hundreds of pigeon skeletons in the attic.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:50 AM on September 17, 2008

There are always dead birds around Madison Square Park in the morning. However, it seems like they are quickly disposed of by the Park employees as they make their rounds. My question has always been why are there so many dead birds in that area?
posted by howcast at 12:16 PM on September 17, 2008

I see dead birds in Chicago routinely. I lived across from a migratory bird sanctuary in Lincoln Park and I'd see the remains of songbirds eaten by predatory birds in front of my house all the time. Near my office, I often see birds who have probably died from flying into windows. I know that in the business district you don't see many because there are city employees who spend all day sweeping the streets and gutters, so they get picked up. In the residential neighborhoods, many condo buildings have staff that sweep the sidewalks in front of the buildings and they, too, are clearing the corpses.
posted by crush-onastick at 12:32 PM on September 17, 2008

I see plenty of dead birds - robins, sparrows, etc. - on my bike rides through Philadelphia.
posted by fixedgear at 1:21 PM on September 17, 2008

There are always dead birds around Madison Square Park in the morning. However, it seems like they are quickly disposed of by the Park employees as they make their rounds. My question has always been why are there so many dead birds in that area?

Are they being poisoned by the rat poison that NYC seems to love to put in parks?
posted by Netzapper at 4:10 PM on September 17, 2008

Bird death tends to be seasonal. Whenever babies are fledgling, or migrations roam by your time, you can see dead birds. We had a real flush of dead birds in March/April, but lately, not so much.

But think on this: ever find dead chipmunks? Creepy.
posted by palindromic at 5:09 PM on September 17, 2008

I, too, have seen a bird (seagull) fall right out of the sky, and land so hard beak-first into a grass field that it could not be dislodged.

Just a week ago, an injured crow settled down in a field in front of my office. Within an hour a smallish hawk was dive-bombing it. I thought it was amazing that it took so little time for a predator to come along when the crow had barely settled down itself.
posted by BuddhaInABucket at 7:50 PM on September 17, 2008

Count me in as one of the "lucky" people who birds decide to die for.

They just fall dead in front of me. A lot. About 6 months ago, while camping, I had three birds just fall stone cold right in front of me in one day.
posted by bradth27 at 10:45 PM on September 17, 2008

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