It can't just be my car, what's going on with the birds?
June 25, 2007 8:20 AM   Subscribe

Are birds getting dumber?

For the past few months I have noticed a disturbing trend of birds attempting to fly into my car. I've been living/driving in the same area of town for a few years and have recently had to swerve to avoid common birds like sparrows and mockingbirds practically every day. This was not like this in previous years. While I don't expect birds to understand geometry and physics, they should take the shortest path to avoid my car. While this may all be anecdotal evidence, are others noticing birds being more oblivious to cars than before? I'm also perhaps compiling data on this subject for study purposes.
posted by Burhanistan to Pets & Animals (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Are they swooping across the road just in front of your car?

They're doing it for kicks. Seriously. They're like little feathery skateboarders.
posted by Leon at 8:29 AM on June 25, 2007

I've been needing to do the same for birds just walking on the road. I'm guessing the fear of man and machine is getting bred out of the urban dwellers.
posted by monkeymadness at 8:37 AM on June 25, 2007

Birds here swoop in front of the car and they do it in a way that I'm sure they are doing it on purpose. They could fly a little higher above the car but they go so low I think they may just do it for the thrill. Or they're just becoming reckless and stupid. Maybe both.
posted by koshka at 8:38 AM on June 25, 2007

My husband and I just had this conversation after he actually hit a bird that flew in front of his car.
posted by jrossi4r at 8:45 AM on June 25, 2007

I have not noticed birds behaving any differently of late. However, please don't be too vigorous in your swerving -- I would much rather you hit an occasional bird, rather than losing control of your car and running into another car or a pedestrian.
posted by Forktine at 8:47 AM on June 25, 2007 [1 favorite]

What IRFH said, just like the pedestrians, the birds know you'll swerve and miss them, so why should they go out of their way?

Incidentally, I was almost hit by a flying turkey while driving. Apparently it had been sitting near the road and the car in front of me startled it, so it flew at my windshield. (This is no joke, but a true story.)
posted by anaelith at 9:02 AM on June 25, 2007

It's mating season for many birds; we all get a little more stupid once sex is involved.

Another possibility is one of your neighbors has planted some kind of fruit/berry-bearing plant which has become neglected. Fruit left on the vine often ferments, birds eat the fermented fruit and start flying under the influence.
posted by jamaro at 9:07 AM on June 25, 2007

People have been hitting birds with cars ever since there were cars - I doubt anything of evolutionary significance is happening in the avian world. I know this because nearly 40 years ago, my mother memorably hit a bird while driving 75 mph in an convertible with the top down. The bird was a 3 pound pheasant. I was sitting in the back seat, between 2 adult passengers, sort of dozing in a wind whipped stupor on a sunny, late spring day on the Kansas Turnpike.

In one second, there was a heavy thunk of the bird hitting the front edge of the hood on our Ford Sunliner, the windshield was obliterated in blood and feathers, and the carcass landed in my lap, spattering me all over with blood, feathers, bird entrails, and the contents of bird entrails. In one second, the day went from a nice spring day's drive to the worst horror movie scene imaginable. And the damn bird flopped around in my lap, and its talons were digging into the inside of my thigh as it died on me, while everybody in the car started screaming and crying.

As I say, cars have been hitting birds for a long time.
posted by paulsc at 9:31 AM on June 25, 2007 [14 favorites]

I have noticed this very thing, but my perspective is that some of the birds have found that the are a large number of bugs lying on the side of the road from the cars. I think the injured bugs probably make fairly easy meals for the birds.
posted by fox_terrier_guy at 9:38 AM on June 25, 2007

I wonder if it's mating season for the kind of bird that's at issue and they're a little wacked out on hormones. (Same goes for times of year when there are a lot more opossom/ squirrels/ skunks/ raccoons hit on the road.)

Are there any bird/small animal specialists who know whether these birds/animals act less "rationally" during particular mating seasons? Something I have wondered.
posted by aught at 10:11 AM on June 25, 2007

Anecdotally, I seem to notice this phenomenon after a mild winter.

My hypothesis is that a mild winter leads to higher survival rates for baby birds, including more than the typical number of stupid ones who would otherwise have succumbed.

My last experience of this involved a bird I hit in Germany mysteriously disappearing, only to reappear from behind the license plate three weeks later when I got back to the UK.

A couple of weeks later, a seagull perched on a streetlamp decided to dive down to street level, straight into the path of my car. The bird clipping the side of my car with its wingtip, and in the rearview mirror, I saw the gull doing what can only be described as a flat-spin.
posted by blue_wardrobe at 11:18 AM on June 25, 2007

The birds in Austin have definitely gotten stupider. This past year, I've also noticed this "I wonder if that car will be friendly?" phenomenon quite a lot. Maybe the birds have a really awful air traffic control center that keeps routing them into deadly low-level lanes above the roads?
posted by Midnight Creeper at 11:48 AM on June 25, 2007

In the (awful) movie "The Core" birds starting hitting stuff - even stationary - as the Earth's magnetic field was weakening.
Maybe that is what is going on now.
posted by spacefire at 12:45 PM on June 25, 2007

!!! A couple days ago I struck my first animal with a car after ten years of driving. It was a bird that seemed to deliberately swoop down into my hood. Today another bird tried what seemed to be the same thing.

I've seen this behavior before, but it does seem to be increasing, which I chalked up to confirmation bias after striking one with my car.

Based on what others have told me, birds do this kind of crap all the time. If anything, you'd think that natural selection would favor bird brains that could recognize a series of large, fast moving objects in a flight path.
posted by Durhey at 1:02 PM on June 25, 2007

Hm. Maybe folks are being facetious and I am not getting it, but all this talk about birds suddenly being stupid because of natural selection doesn't connect with natural selection as this layman understands it -- it wouldn't happen quickly enough to produce anecdotally noticable increases in "stupid" birds, I don't think.

I think the actual answer lies more in something about the cars involved, road surface, or road shoulders being unusually attractive, or their being some seasonal behavioral oddness. Also, to go back to something Burhanistan said in the orig. post, the "shortest" line for a ballistic object like a diving/flying bird would definitely NOT be a straight line above your car (presumably between two tree branches, or a roof and a branch). Gravity, wind, aerodynamics, and the bird's wing efforts would make the path of least effort a big swooping curve (or series of curves).

Okay, all that said, another thing I have noticed birds being dangerously attracted to is road salt put down to reduce ice. During the winter I have had them hop out into my path in the road. Maybe some of that remains on the road shoulders? (I know, grasping at straws here.)
posted by aught at 1:20 PM on June 25, 2007

[some comments deleted; The Comedy Store is thataway...]
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:42 PM on June 25, 2007

I think birds do this to impress potential mates.
posted by edverb at 8:05 PM on June 25, 2007

I'd bet that those birds are reacting to their reflection in the finish or the windows of your car as if it was a rival. For some birds, it's about time for mating to produce the second batch of eggs, where I live, and when the chance to be the father of those chicks is at issue, a lot of birds will fly at and attack their own reflections.

In early spring, a friend of mine noticed a woodpecker in the tree next to his front porch as he left for one weekend, and came back monday to two cracked panes and a destroyed sill on one of his porch windows as well as a badly splintered post on the corner nearest that window.

In other words, what edverb said.
posted by jamjam at 10:13 PM on June 25, 2007

I think its because there are a lot of newly fledged young birds at this time of year and they haven't the experience to know to dodge the cars. It happens a lot around this time every year, but more so on years where the weather conditions have been such that lots of chicks survive to fledge (like this year).

It will be forgotten in a few weeks and next summer when it happens again, it'll seem like a new behaviour.
posted by muckybob at 12:49 AM on June 26, 2007

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