No birder likes to find a dead bird in their yard, but it is the nature of this popular hobby that some birds will succumb to predators, window strikes and illnesses. Safely disposing of the dead birds will minimize any negative affects on other backyard birds and keep infections from spreading to pets or humans.
When You Find a Dead Bird
A dead bird might be found near a feeder, window, roosting area or just in the middle of the yard. While some locations may be a clue to the cause of death – a bird near a large window may have died from a window collision, for example – many times birders will not know what killed the bird. The temptation to examine the dead bird to determine why it died can be great, but it is important to dispose of the bird quickly and safely to avoid spreading illness or parasites to other creatures. A quick visual inspection can be made, but otherwise, the bird should be carefully disposed of.
- Wear gloves at all times when handling dead birds. Disposable gloves are best, and do not wear the same gloves you use when handling seed or cleaning feeders.
- Use a small shovel, rake or other tools to move the bird if possible, even while wearing gloves.
- Put the bird in a plastic bag that can be twisted shut or sealed. If a bag is not available, wrap the bird in several layers of newspaper.
- Place the bag carefully in a covered trash container where it will be out of reach of pets or scavengers.
- If moving the bird required contact with bodily fluids or open injuries, clean and sterilize any tools or gloves used in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water.
- Wash your hands thoroughly after handling dead birds, even if gloves were worn and there was no direct contact with the bird.
Do not leave dead birds exposed by putting them in a brush pile, field or ditch. Doing so will attract predators such as raccoons, cats or dogs which could become ill from the carcass, and predators can also become accustomed to an easy food source and will begin threatening your other backyard birds. Similarly, do not bury dead birds as predators will still find them.
Reporting Dead Birds
In most cases, it is not necessary to report dead birds, particularly common backyard birds. There are several situations, however, that should be reported to wildlife resource officers or the local authorities.
- If the bird appears to have been shot or killed by human intervention
- If several birds of the same species die in a short period of time
- If the bird is a bird of prey or other large bird
- If the bird is tagged or banded with tracking equipment
- If the bird is a species not usually found in your area
In these cases, contact local officials and provide them as much information as possible before you dispose of the bird. They may request that you keep the dead bird available for their collection and study, and they will give you proper instructions for doing so safely.
Finding a dead bird is always a sad occurrence, and many birders, particularly young children, will want to hold a memorial for the bird. While this can be a touching gesture, doing so may reinforce unsound birding ideas. Wild birds are not pets, and their deaths are a natural part of the wild life cycle. Explain to children – who will be understandably upset – that the healthiest, strongest birds will survive but that it is necessary to dispose of the bird properly in order to keep other birds healthy. Encourage children to look past one bird’s death to see the flock that continues to enjoy backyard feeders, and allow them to understand that seeing dead birds is one part of the hobby, but it is a small part when compared to the joy and happiness that birding can bring.