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If you stop to think about it, you probably will realize that you never really see any dead birds lying around. That might not sound very odd on its face until you realize how many live birds are around. With the number of birds in the sky and the frequency at which they die, there should be more dead birds around. That’s not to say that people want to see dead birds, but the fact that you never see them is something to ponder.
So, do birds go somewhere to die so that they are not seen? It seems like a valid question. Some animals like dogs and cats are said to do this, but it turns out it’s a myth1.
When it comes to birds, they do not have any special place they go to die. So, where are they? Let’s take a closer look.
At their physiological core, birds contain very little living tissue. Birds are largely hollow and weigh very little. This is what allows birds to fly. Birds’ bones are hollow. Birds’ thoracic cavity is hollow. They have a very thin layer of skin and a lot of feathers. Bird organs are tiny.
All of that adds up to a very small footprint when the bird dies. In short, there is not much bird to decompose. When a bird dies, they decompose very quickly because there is not much to a bird other than feathers and air. There is a very small window from the time a bird hits the ground until they return to the organic dirt. Some birds die in trees, which hide their bodies from view, but they do not do this on purpose.
Another interesting thing about dead birds is that other animals love to eat them—especially other birds. When a bird dies, one of the first things to come looking for the corpse will be another bird. Carrion birds specialize specifically in eating the corpses of animals in order to help them break down and return to the cycle of life. Birds like hawks, eagles, owls, and vultures will come in when they spot a dead bird and eat the body. It makes a yummy meal for a carrion bird, and it prevents the bird’s corpse from being found.
Other animals will eat bird bodies if they find them as well. Dogs, in particular, will eat a bird’s corpse especially wild dogs, coyotes, and jackals. Cats generally do not like to eat food that they did not kill themselves, but a hungry cat or bobcat will also pick up a bird carcass if they come across it and it is still relatively fresh.
Birds often die suddenly and fall to the ground, but their bodies vanish startlingly quickly thanks to the forces of nature.
The average lifespan of a typical songbird in the wild is 3-5 years. In captivity, birds have been known to live much longer. Wild birds are subject to disease, bad weather, predators, competition, and accidents that cause them to die at fairly young ages. Smaller birds typically live for shorter amounts of time than larger birds.
Some larger birds of prey like hawks and owls can live to be 10-15 years of age. Exotic birds like parrots and toucans have been known to live into their thirties and even forties. But that is rare and always in captivity.
The birds you see flying around the typical bird feeder will be lucky to live past five years old. The short lifespan of birds should hammer home the point about how many bird corpses there should technically be. It is why people ask where all of the birds are and if they go somewhere to die. If one in every five birds is slated to die in a given year, that is a lot of birds. But we rarely ever see them after they have died.
A rather morbid topic aside, birds and nature are truly fascinating. Thanks to biology, predators, and decomposition, most birds are never seen after they die. Birds are mostly air and feathers, so it doesn’t take long for the small avian bodies to vanish back into the earth. Birds are even a favorite snack for other birds.
The fantastical idea that birds somehow know when they are going to die and try and go off somewhere safe and quiet to pass on is simply not true.
Featured Image Credit: SusanneEdele, Pixabay
Robert’s obsession with all things optical started early in life, when his optician father would bring home prototypes for Robert to play with. Nowadays, Robert is dedicated to helping others find the right optics for their needs. His hobbies include astronomy, astrophysics, and model building. Originally from Newark, NJ, he resides in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where the nighttime skies are filled with glittering stars.
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