Where Do Birds Go To Die?
Considering the amount of birds flying around the UK it’s a wonder we don’t see any dead birds around. Well most get eaten by bigger birds or other predators, sadly there aren’t many birds that die of old age. Nature is a cruel place, it’s the survival of the fittest, and if you can’t keep up, you get left behind (or eaten).
Little birds eat smaller insects, small amphibians, slugs and worms, then they get eaten by bigger birds or other predators. This includes most British garden birds and it explains why they can breed at a young age, and why they have so many young. Sadly the mortality rate of garden birds is quite high; the average life expectancy of a robin is just over a year, while starlings typically live to be 2 ½ .
So in all reality, that robin that has always visited your garden probably isn’t the same one, but possibly a member of the same family. Generally speaking, the larger the bird, the longer it’s likely to live. The scientists do regular ringing of garden birds and use mist nets to catch them to check, and this is how they can make such accurate predictions on life expectancy.
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Many Young Are Born But Not Many Reach Maturity
Garden birds produce many offspring; sadly the majority die before reaching their adulthood. Many of the younger birds and those that are weak will either contract disease or get captured by a predator, but will certainly not reach adulthood.
Like many other creatures in the wild, birds when they get sick, will go to out of the way, secluded spots to die. For example the woodpecker finds a hole in a tree to climb into. These ill birds hide because they don’t feel well, some recover and rejoin their flocks, but if they do die, they often don’t get found. If they do get found it’s often by a predator like foxes, rats or cats, or as their bodies are so small, they don’t take long to get eaten by insects.
If predators do find a dead or dying bird, they will usually take it back to feed their young which explains the lack of bird remains found in our gardens. It would be incredibly unusual to find a dead bird in your garden in much the same way as you wouldn’t very often find a dead mouse. As birds need to be composed of such light bones to be able to fly, their bodies decompose very quickly so there are often no remains left from a sick bird that has hidden somewhere like under a bush.
Polar Bears Are Also Bird Predators
Polar bears’ usual hunting ground is the Arctic sea but as the Arctic warms, the bears have to move closer inland to find food. Once they stumble on a guillemots nest they will eat all of the eggs, and the parents too. They can then go from nest to nest and wipe out a complete flock of guillemots in a short time.
Where Do Seabirds Go To Die?
Walk along any seaside area, and there are always an abundance of birds. Terns, gulls and other seabirds. You should expect to see many dead or at least sick birds on the beaches and walkways. So where do they go to die? Well, there are a few reasons that you don’t see any dead or dying birds on the beach.
Firstly sick gulls wouldn’t be flying with the flock as gulls are a particularly competitive species of bird. They fight against healthy birds so a sick one hasn’t got a chance. Plus any sick bird is easy prey for predators, they have foxes to contend with on land and birds of prey at sea, plus there’s the likelihood of sharks and other ocean predators eating them in the sea.
When any birds feel sick, they will go somewhere away from the rest of the flock,they usually hide in secluded places but gulls and other seabirds are a bit short of secluded spots. They often land on the beach initially to rest, if this doesn’t make them feel any better, they just die. But beaches are full of scavengers, from foxes, rats, crabs, other birds even, and the feathers get washed out to sea on the next tide.
What Are The Causes Of Bird Die-Offs?
Possibly the only time you are likely to see any dead birds is after a bird die-off, these events are relatively rare and many have no scientific explanation yet discovered. But they do happen and sometimes there are reasons and these include:
- Illness (Widespread)
There are many illnesses that can devastate bird populations including West Nile Virus, Avian ‘Flu, and Avian Botulism. If the conditions are right, any one of these diseases can spread through a flock of birds in a very short time.
Birds can get exhausted for many reasons, and if a bird becomes too exhausted, it can die from lack of food or dehydration or even predator attack.
- Mass Panic
These events are rare but they do happen on occasion, the birds get startled and all fly off in any direction, with many colliding with each other and getting concussed or injured, or flying into other obstacles like radio towers, mobile phone towers, trees, electrical wires, wind turbines and telegraph poles.
- Parasitic Infestation
Birds can suffer from parasites like ticks and mites, these parasites can carry diseases which can be fatal.
Whether it’s from oil slicks, chemical leaks, or other pollutants all of these events can cause birds death. Either directly or indirectly due to lack of food or water, migratory routes polluted, or nesting areas getting overrun with toxic chemicals.
- Weather Events
Snow storms, electrical thunderstorms, heat waves, and hurricanes can all cause birds to die in large numbers.
A hungry fox or other predator can virtually wipe out a flock of nesting birds, many will panic only to succumb to the mass panic scenario.
There were terrible wildfires in the central and Western United States in 2020 at the same time large numbers of migratory birds were being found dead in their back gardens. Locals set up a crowd sourced science platform to look into this phenomena. Around about the same time, in the Northwest of the country snowstorms came early. Many migratory birds got caught between the 2 events.
More than 3 million hectares (7.8 million acres) burnt which not only meant habitat loss, but also the production of toxic gasses that would be fatal to avian life. Certain areas experienced temperature drops of over 40 degrees C (72 F) overnight. These combined events left many birds with nowhere to go, caught between fires and snowstorms, many asphyxiated from toxic fumes whilst others simply died from hypothermia.
Severe Winters, violent storms, heat waves, hurricanes and other climatic and man made events like wars, pollution and other disasters can cause birds to not be able to find any food.
What Are The Main Illnesses That Cause Mass Bird Die-Offs
The 3 illnesses listed above are severe bird illnesses that can cause a mass die-off in birds but what are the symptoms?
When birds catch avian ‘flu the symptoms include:
- Loss of appetite
- Lack of coordination
- Misshapen or soft-shelled eggs
- Purple discolouration of the legs, combs and wattles
- Lack of energy
- Runny nose
- Decrease in egg production
- Swelling of the head, eyelids, hocks, wattle and comb
If you notice any of the above symptoms in pet birds or wild birds contact the authorities at once. This disease is a cross species disease – Which means it can pass from birds to humans.
West Nile Virus
Birds usually contract West Nile virus from the bite of an infected mosquito, but predatory birds (owls, eagles etc) or scavenger birds (crows, magpies etc) can contract it from dead or dying birds. The symptoms of West Nile virus include:
- Lack of movement (even when disturbed)
- Head permanently turned to one side
- Spinal spasms that affect the back and the neck and cause a backward arching of the head
- Weight loss
- Inflammation of the spinal cord
- Inflammation of the brain
Many birds can get over West Nile virus if given the correct treatment, unfortunately this is unlikely to happen in the wild. There is no evidence of humans contracting West Nile Virus from infected birds. Humans tend to catch West Nile virus from being bitten by infected mosquitoes.
This disease mainly affects waterfowl but does cross over into land birds. The main symptom is paralysis of the legs, neck and wings. With the harder to spot swelling of the nictitating membrane- third eyelid (almost transparent). If a whole area of water (pond, lake or section of river) has a concentration of dead or paralysed water birds, it’s a pretty good assumption that they will have suffered from avian botulism. There are no recorded cases of humans catching avian botulism.
Frequently Asked Questions
Most sick birds will go and find a secluded place to either recover or die, they are then usually found by predators (like foxes) or scavengers (like crows) and eaten. If they do remain hidden their lightweight bones will soon rot down.
Birds who feel unwell will seek out a secluded place to either recuperate or die.
Sadly most birds die from either illness or predator attack and not old age.
Most birds’ bodies are eaten by either predators (foxes etc) or scavengers (crows etc) or they disintegrate quickly due to their thin bones required for flying.