Getting rid of a (bird) corpse?
March 21, 2016 2:21 PM   Subscribe

I just opened the attic door and discovered at least two, possibly three, dead birds - like, rural style pigeons or something - lying at the bottom of the stairs. Birds don't just lie there generally, so I assume they're dead. I am completely freaking out. What do I do?

It's after 5pm here and no one is answering the phone. I need some facts and a strategy for tomorrow morning, so that I can shift my attention to convincing myself it's OK to keep eating and sleeping in this house for the next 18 hours or so. It has been an incredibly long time since I've been faced with something this horrifying, and this time I don't have any of my parents within 2000 miles so no one can rescue me.

Do exterminators dispose of dead bodies? Does it matter that I had exterminators here about six weeks ago, to kill fleas? The fleas all definitely died, and I've had lots of other dead bugs, but nothing like this. Is the exterminator I went to before a reasonable first course of action? It seems to me that as I haven't managed to get into the attic at all that I also need someone to check the rest of the attic for more corpses.

Are there other kinds of professionals that handle this kind of unspeakably horrible task? How much should I expect to pay for this? Is there a case for asking the exterminator to not charge me given that I've never known corpses to just appear in this house in twenty-plus years? Are there aspects to this situation that I haven't mentioned because I'm basically in complete red alert mode here?

For what it's worth, my landlord is one of those parents who's far away, so I'm really on my own. I've started yelling on Facebook about it too, but I'm not sure any of my friends will have any good advice. I expect that some sort of "fixing a big freaking hole that has been used by freaking birds to freaking live in my house long enough to get themselves poisoned" project will also have to be undertaken, but my sanity relies more on getting the corpses out first.

You guys have no idea how much I'm restraining myself here. I want to burn the house down and never come back, or possibly use swear words out loud, or at least use the blink tag. I expect to start compulsively refreshing this page for your answers as soon as this question goes live. And I'm going to be eating enough chocolate to make myself sick, because then I'll have something even more pressing to worry about.
posted by SMPA to Home & Garden (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
grab plastic grocery bags, put hand in bag ( double bag if you want, or even triple-bag if you're extra squeamish). Pick birds up with bagged hand. Pull bags off hand (turning them inside out, bird carcass is now inside bag). Tie bag top in a knot, throw in trash.

(edit to add: odds are they got in through the gable/rafter vents, couldn't get out, and overheated/starved/dehydrated, it's no biggie. I find dead things in attic/crawlspace often, and then have to go find where/how they got in, and patch that up)
posted by k5.user at 2:28 PM on March 21, 2016 [53 favorites]

And wash your hands after.
posted by mikek at 2:29 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

It's too early for West Nile Virus to be a problem here, so I wouldn't be worried about that. There's just been a cold snap, so it's possible that the birds weren't prepared for the weather (hello, neighbor!).

I am sure that exterminators will come take care of the birds if you don't want to follow k5.user's advice regarding disposal.
posted by ChuraChura at 2:30 PM on March 21, 2016

If you really can't use your hands as recommended above, get a trowel or shovel or something and use that to put the dead birds in trash bags.

You can do it! It's gross, but I've disposed of dead rats, and they're grosser than dead birds.
posted by ldthomps at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2016 [11 favorites]

Go find some rubber gloves, and two plastic grocery bags. Put on the rubber gloves and place the dead birds in the doubled up bag. Put the bag in the garbage. Problem solved; go on about your day.

Additional steps you might want to take.
- Throw out the rubber gloves
- Tie a scarf/fabric over your mouth/nose to block any odors
posted by axismundi at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Do you have an outdoor trash can? Put them in a trash bag (yes, bag your hands, or you can try to use a broom and dustpan or broom and shovel) and put them in the trash. Or if you have a brave friend, offer them a bribe to come do it.

They did not die of incipient zombie apocalypse or anything. They're fragile, and birds are not real bright, this happens.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

I wish I was your local Icky Things Friend and I could come over and pick up your dead birds with a plastic bag over my hand and spay down The Crime Scene with bleach solution (and in turn you could shield me from anything vomit-related ever.)

You are not in danger. I live in an old house with a fieldstone basement. Every year we get mice. Still not dead! You won't catch anything from attic birds that flew in. Not diseases or parasites. They starved probably - why do you think poisoned?

You're safe and okay!
posted by Lou Stuells at 2:32 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

From here:
What should I do if I find a dead bird?
State and local agencies have different policies for collecting and testing birds, so check with your state health department or state wildlife agency for information about reporting dead birds in your area. Wildlife agencies routinely investigate sick or dead bird events if large numbers are impacted. This type of reporting could help with the early detection of illnesses like West Nile virus or Avian influenza (bird flu), known to cause death in birds. If local authorities tell you to simply dispose of the bird’s carcass (body), don’t handle it with your bare hands. Use gloves or an inverted plastic bag to place the carcass in a garbage bag, which can then be disposed of in your regular trash .

But p.s., step one should be "stop horriblizing."
posted by sageleaf at 2:32 PM on March 21, 2016 [12 favorites]

You should really calm down. You are in absolutely ZERO danger here. They are dead birds, not live vipers. Their mere presence cannot hurt you.
posted by showbiz_liz at 2:32 PM on March 21, 2016 [20 favorites]

You can do this.

Fortify yourself with chocolate, whiskey, loud tunes - whatever makes you feel kick ass. Pull on rubber gloves (if you have them, just to feel like you have a barrier -- you don't NEED them) and flip the birds into a trash bag with a big serving spoon you hate anyway or chop sticks or a magazine or piece of cardboard. Then toss the bag and reapply your fortification method.
posted by Ink-stained wretch at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

k5's correct. Into every adult life a little grossness must fall. Screw your courage to the sticking point and grab the bags. You're being a trifle silly.
posted by Diablevert at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [10 favorites]

If you really, really can't handle it, exterminators will probably do it, but there's no reason for them to not charge you for the service.
posted by FencingGal at 2:33 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

My guess is that the birds somehow found their way into your attic (probably a hole chewed by squirrels or something similar - ask me how I know...) and either died of natural causes or from the residue of the poison the exterminators were using.

If you were me, my first thing would be to get some rubber gloves (or use the plastic bag trick others are mentioning) and pick up the birds and put them in a trash bag, and throw that away. Job done. The next thing would be to poke my head up in the attic to see if there were more birds and/or bird corpses up there. If there are either of those, I'd call a pest control company with a wildlife division and have them find out how they're getting into your attic, and fix that problem. That should pretty much take care of things. There is no danger here, this is just one of those things that sometimes you have to deal with.
posted by ralan at 2:34 PM on March 21, 2016

Okay, it's gross and unsettling, but they are just birds. Not zombies. They will not attack you in your sleep. You won't know if you have something to worry about until someone goes to look in the attic. You can hire a roofer for an inspection and throw yourself on his/her mercy to take care of the dead birds in the doorway.

If you are feeling braveish, you can dispose of them yourself. I would use a shovel rather than the aforementioned garbage bag/glove scenario (too close to the corpses).

You can do this.. I totally freak out over mice corpses, but have dispatched them with the aforementioned shovel method.
posted by sarajane at 2:36 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

I agree that you are a trifle squeamish here, and a shovel to the trash is in order.

I understand though, this is super gross- I have a hard time myself in spring when the lake I live near suffers a plague of dead fish that didn't survive the winter and come up when the ice thaws.

I suggest not paying exterminator rates and going to craigslist and hiring a handyman/cleaner/odd jobs person, as this would be cheaper.
posted by slateyness at 2:41 PM on March 21, 2016

If you have dishwashing gloves, the fairly thick rubber kind that will make you pretty much unable to feel anything through them, then put those on. Then use the inside-out plastic-bag method outlined above so that they wind up inside the bag and you never touch them.

If you do not have dishwashing gloves, and you can't get a shovel to the attic, and you are too skeeved out to risk even touching the birds through two layers of plastic bags, then consider sacrificing your kitchen tongs. Use those to get the dead birds into the plastic bags, knot the bags, then throw them away. Don't use those tongs again.
posted by fingersandtoes at 2:42 PM on March 21, 2016

I am 99% certain that at least one of your friends-you-trust-to-visit-your-home in your Facebook network will get rid of the birds for you for a six-pack or equivalent, which is a hell of a lot less than any exterminator would charge. Once the bodies are gone, and you or your ad hoc disposal contractor have given the area the once-over with some disinfectant spray or whatever, there is no cause for any further concern.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2016 [9 favorites]

Yet another reason why it's good to have dogs - a pooper scooper makes an excellent dead critter collection tool.
posted by cecic at 2:57 PM on March 21, 2016

oh - if you have a fireplace, your fireplace tools will probably work well for this.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:00 PM on March 21, 2016

Yeah, a trusted friend will totally do this for you. I would absolutely do this for a friend with pretty much zero discomfort. Thing is, remember that this may be totally horrifying to you, but it's not necessarily even a big deal for everyone, so you're not "imposing" by asking.
posted by ostro at 3:07 PM on March 21, 2016 [15 favorites]

Do you have long tongs, like for use on a grill? These are the easiest way to pick up something gross. Otherwise, you can sweep them into a trash bag, and then thrown the broom away, too.
posted by Ideefixe at 3:11 PM on March 21, 2016

Ask a friend or neighbor. You know how people say "if you ever need anything..." this is a great time to take them up on it.
posted by BoscosMom at 3:14 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

Hey, this happened to me! Not sure how they got in, but all houses are at least a little permeable to the outside, as k5.user pointed out, and given that the attic was so low-traffic it probably seemed like a quiet nesting place. Anyway, it's not a big deal and doesn't mean your house has any particular problems or a bird infestation or anything.

Is there something specific you're worried about? Probably we can assuage your fears better with that information.
posted by en forme de poire at 3:16 PM on March 21, 2016

Thanks for the replies; they're definitely helping me relax. I'm pretty phobic about the attic and about vermin, so I'm going to be making calls tomorrow. If that fails, the kids next door seem like a valid option (the whole school is at a memorial service, which is why I haven't asked them.)

By phobic I mean that I originally opened the door to see if there really was a dead cockroach on the stairs, which is why the exterminator came to mind immediately. I've been trying to get myself to open up that door for a month to see about the possible cockroach, and I have to admit that this discovery falls into the category of negative conditioning as far as "opening doors I'm nervous about" is concerned.
posted by SMPA at 3:47 PM on March 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

SMPA, if you still need someone tomorrow, let me know!
posted by ChuraChura at 3:49 PM on March 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

If a possible dead roach is enough to make you afraid to open a door in your own home for a whole month, you might want to see about therapy. I say that not as a dig, but because your reaction is way outside the realm of typical and it's clearly negatively affecting your life.
posted by showbiz_liz at 4:24 PM on March 21, 2016 [31 favorites]

How old is the kid next door? Scooping dead critters seems like the sort of unpleasantness only grownups should deal with, unless the kid next door is like a 15-18 year old accustomed to more rural life/farm work. (Your neighborhood kids may vary).
posted by slateyness at 5:59 PM on March 21, 2016 [2 favorites]

So this may shock you but my mother is a wildlife painter and my entire childhood we had dead birds in our freezer, double bagged, for her to observe feathers and features closely for paintings. I know you are probably horrified but honestly it wouldn't bother me even a tiny bit to see a dead bird. They are incredibly unlikely to be dangerous if you take the simplest of precautions like using a barrier to pick it up and washing your hands. I mean I might feel sad about the bird, but if observe the amazing feathers and feel totally unworried about disposing of the bird (unlike my mother, I do not keep dead birds). I had a super healthy childhood, and my family never had so much as food poisoning let alone strange or scary pests/diseases. I was a very outdoorsy child and more than once stroked the feathers of a bird that had been killed by flying into a window, and when young and unaware of germ theory did not even wash my hands. Nothing except a deep appreciation of birds came of it.
posted by Cygnet at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2016

Sweetie. They aren't SNAKES. No need to burn the house down. Vodka, garbage bags.

posted by 2soxy4mypuppet at 6:12 PM on March 21, 2016 [5 favorites]

Aw, I would totally do this for my BFF, in fact I have done something with a similar grossness quotient for them, so I hope you get some assistance from a friend tomorrow. I agree with showbiz_liz that you might want to consider help for your phobia because there will be a lot more grossness throughout your life, and at some point avoiding it for a month could cause much bigger problems.
posted by desjardins at 7:21 PM on March 21, 2016

You've already gotten great advice about how to scoop the corpses into a garbage bag.

It's totally irrational to be squicked out about them - but I'M RIGHT THERE WITH YOU. I have no squeamishness whatsoever about bodily fluids, insects, or larger dead animals. I even dispatched a bedbug on my coworker's backpack (used to work for a social services nonprofit, so they were pretty common in our buildings).

But when faced with any small dead rodent or bird, I completely flip out. Squealing and retreating and cowering in the fetal position. I'll skip the specific things that reduce me to a whimpering toddler in case they give you more nasty thoughts, but trust me, I know how you feel. We all have that thing that absolutely freaks us out.

If you don't have someone who can nonchalantly bag 'em, you can totally do this yourself. Hazmat levels of protection will make you feel better. Boots, the longest dishwashing gloves you can find, and a bathrobe worn backwards, tied behind you so there's no chance of the belt falling forward when you scoop. Poop scoop, barbecue tongs, anything that minimizes your closeness and that you don't mind disposing of afterwards. Consider your containment vessel as well - large trash bag in a bucket, just in case you shudder and it doesn't quite make it into a floppy bag.

Objects into bag; tie up the bag; very slowly walk it to dumpster holding it at arms length. Done. Washable protective garments straight into the washing machine; you into a hot shower. You can do this!
posted by ortoLANparty at 7:28 PM on March 21, 2016

I use the trowel method, though I like to substitute the shovel from the set of fireplace tools. Living in the wood, I usually just flip carcasses into a bush or thicket instead of the trash.
posted by SemiSalt at 8:02 PM on March 21, 2016

I've dealt with a similar problem - the neighbour's cat took a shine to us and left a "gift" (ie a dead bird) on our front door. My housemate and I, both squeamish, used about a broom to maneuver the corpse onto 74930849328 sheets of newspaper. Then we threw the newspaper into the bin, AND the broom, and primal-screamed for a full minute while jumping up and down.

I think it's ok if you don't want to do it - call an exterminator, who may also be able to check out if there's anything amiss in your attic (killing 2 birds with one stone, if you'll pardon the phrase) - but dead birds definitely can't hurt you and I don't see why you shouldn't be unsafe to stay in your house till the corpses are removed, unless I'm missing something extremely obvious.
posted by Ziggy500 at 8:50 PM on March 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

You've already gotten great advice about how to scoop the corpses into a garbage bag.

No you have not! I've had to deal with rat carcasses and recommend barbecue tongs. Double line a garbage can, throw dead bodies in, throw tongs in when you're done. Seriously, fuck those those tongs.
posted by bonobothegreat at 5:47 AM on March 22, 2016 [4 favorites]

I'm agreeing with everyone who says you can outsource this to a less squeamish friend. 20+ years ago my friend Mel called me shrieking at 2am about a mouse caught in a glue trap in her apartment. (Her landlord placed the traps, not her.) My boyfriend and I went over - at 2am - and took the mouse outside and freed it from the trap.

Alternately, as above, just scoop them into a garbage bag with a shovel or a couple pieces of cardboard and you are in business.
posted by 8dot3 at 9:22 AM on March 22, 2016

Thank you all; I resorted to a commercial service (old house = chance of bats, etc.) It appears this group of birds got clever and then stuck, as there's no sign that they tried to eat anything or make nests. The guy inspected inside and out for points of entry, and is kind of confused as to how they got in. They were right by the door because that was a continuous source of light and fresh air; there's an LED night light that shines right under the door and we don't have street lights so it'd be very tempting.

They were apparently dead "for a while," so yeah. I asked that he not tell me how many he took out, but it took several minutes of intermittent bag shuffling so I'm pretty OK with not knowing.

Oh, and: the exterminator doesn't do birds (or bats,) but they had the number of the guy who does.
posted by SMPA at 9:17 AM on March 23, 2016 [3 favorites]

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