What to Do if You Find a Dead Bird in Your Yard

Wednesday, July 14, 2021
Backyard bird feeding is an exciting hobby that comes with great rewards for both us and the birds, but also comes with the occasional upsetting sight - dead birds. This is, unfortunately, an inevitable part of the normally joyful bird-watching hobby. No one likes to find dead birds in their yard, but knowing what to do when it happens to you can help keep other birds safe. 

Deceased Northern Flicker - Photo courtesy of Gillian Clost


Possible causes of death

  • Window strike: Arguably the number one cause of bird deaths in backyards, and also one of the most preventable. Birds who have died due to a window strike are typically found below, or near the window they hit. Even window collisions that are not immediately fatal, can cause internal injuries causing the bird to pass later on. Window collisions can happen any time of year, but are more prevalent during migration when birds are flying through areas in larger numbers, and can easily mistake reflective surfaces for trees or sky. Window strikes can be prevented and bird deaths avoided by making your windows bird-friendly. This can be done by installing window strike deterrent markers, an easy and effective solution to help keep birds safe. For more information on how to make your windows bird-friendly, click here

  • Cat or other animal attack: Free-roaming domestic cats pose a huge threat to native bird populations. Millions of birds die from cat attacks each year, and those who survive the initial attack often succumb to injury and infection shortly after. Death by cat or other predator is usually quite obvious, as the bird will have visible injuries such as open wounds. Attacks like these can be prevented by keeping pet cats indoors, where it is safer for both them and wildlife. To learn more about keeping cats and birds safe, click here

  • Illness: There are several illnesses birds can succumb to, some of which have very visible symptoms, while others are nearly impossible to detect without proper testing. Some signs that may indicate a bird died from an illness include crusty or swollen eyes, wart-like growths on the skin, and emaciation. If you suspect a bird or number of birds in your yard are ill or have died from an illness, follow through with protocol in the next section. 

  • Severe weather: Severe weather such as thunderstorms, strong winds, extreme heat or cold, torrential rain and flooding, and other extreme weather events can cause bird deaths. Nestlings, fledglings, and young birds are particularly vulnerable to the elements. Fireworks displays are also known to cause birds to abandon nesting sites, resulting in nestlings being lost to predators, the elements, or starvation and dehydration. 

  • Poison: Birds of prey in particular are highly susceptible to poisoning via rodenticide used as a form of pest control. When a bird of prey consumes a rodent who has consumed poison, it is passed onto the bird. While once poisoned mouse might not result in the death of the bird (though it could), it can cause illness weakening the bird and limiting its ability to care for itself which eventually leads to death. Pesticides are another form of poisoning amongst songbirds who forage for insects in shrubs and trees that are sprayed with chemicals. 

  • Natural causes: Just as with all animals (humans included), birds can die of natural causes. This will often appear as though the bird died "for no reason", or similarly to a bird who passed due to a window collision. If you find a bird that is not near a window but seemingly has no injuries, it is best to treat it as a sick bird and follow through with protocol in the next section. 

Common Yellowthroat, male; window collision victim - Photo courtesy of Sara Hawton

Proper disposal of the body
This will depend on how the bird died. If a window strike or animal attack is the known cause of death, then simply placing the body out of your used yard space is sufficient for disposal. A burial may seem appropriate, but leaving the body in the open gives another animal (or animals) access to an easy meal. If you aren't sure how the bird died, it is best to dispose of it in the trash as quickly as possible to ensure that no other animals in your yard come into contact with the deceased bird. Alternatively, if you believe the bird may have died of an illness and would like to have a necropsy performed to determine the cause of death, you can place the body in a tightly sealed container & store in the freezer, and contact University of Guelph as soon as possible. 

    Safe handling of deceased birds
  • Protect yourself from possible zoonotic diseases and bacteria by wearing gloves at all times when handling deceased wildlife. Disposable gloves are ideal, but if none are available to you at the time, a plastic bag, newspaper, or rags will suffice. Be sure not to use gloves that are also used for handling bird feed or equipment. Using a shovel or rake rather than your hands to pick up the bird will help to further protect from any possible bacteria or pathogens. 

  • Tightly wrap the bird in either a plastic bag, newspaper, or a rag, and place in a waste bin that is sealed and safe from scavengers, children, and pets. 

  • Clean and disinfect any tools used to pick up and dispose of the body & wash hands thoroughly with hot and soapy water, even if no contact was made with the bird. 


When and how to report a dead bird

In most cases there is no reason to report a bird death, but in some instances such as a window collision, suspected illness, or a large number of bird deaths occurring in one area, it may be necessary to report to authorities or bird welfare organizations. 

    Report window strike casualties: 

    Report suspicious bird deaths:

Note:
If you live in Ontario and intend on keeping a deceased raptor that you have found for personal use (educational tool, taxidermy, etc), the law requires you to register the bird with Ministry of Natural Resources. You can do so through their online portal


House Finch with possible case of House Finch Eye Disease - Photo courtesy of Ramon Delgado

What to do if you find an injured or sick bird

  1. If you are able to approach and capture the bird, do so and place in a well-ventilated box. Place the box in a dark and quite room. Do not give the bird food or water at this time. Sick or injured birds can easily aspirate. Contact your nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility immediately. For a list of facilities in Ontario, click here. Follow the next instructions if the bird you are dealing with is possibly ill. 

  2. Take down all feeders and birdbaths and discard remaining food immediately - even if you didn't see the bird at your feeders. 

  3. Many illnesses are contracted through bird-to-bird contact, or through contaminated surfaces. Because of this, it is extremely important to thoroughly clean and disinfect all feeders, birdbaths, and feeding equipment. First you will need to thoroughly clean your feeders with a brush to remove any visible dirt or mold. Once you are finished the initial cleaning, submerge the feeders in a 10% bleach solution for a minimum of 10 minutes, this acts as a disinfectant and also helps to loosen any grime build-up; scrub feeders again with brush & rinse thoroughly for at least 15 seconds in warm water. For in-depth cleaning and disinfecting instructions, click here

  4. It is important to discontinue use of all feeders and birdbaths for a minimum of two weeks to help discourage birds coming to your yard and further spreading the illness. Some bacteria such as salmonella can survive in wet and warm areas for months. 

  5. When the quarantine period is over and your feeders are back up, be sure to keep a close eye on the birds visiting them. If there is any sign of illness, repeat the process above and keep feeders down for a longer period of time.

  6. To help mitigate the spread of bacteria and diseases to other birds that visit your backyard, follow through with a strict cleaning and disinfecting regime with your feeders, birdbaths, and other backyard birding equipment. Click here to learn more. 

- Shayna

4 comments:

  1. Very informative Shayna, thanks for including the links.

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  2. Excellent information. Thanks Shayna. This is so upsetting to me when it happens even though infrequently. I would have no peace until it was buried. However, I will ensure if diseased looking, your protocol info is followed.

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    Replies
    1. It is such an awful thing to witness. However it's good to be informed and take the right steps when it happens. :) Thanks for reading!

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