Nobody who loves birds wants to find a dead bird in their backyard, but some birds inevitably succumb to cats and other predators, flying into windows, parasites, and illnesses.
Removing dead birds the right way will minimize any ill effects on other backyard birds and keep infections from spreading to pets and people.
And it’s only natural to feel grief when you find a beloved pet bird dead in its cage.
In this article, we will tell you what to do when you find wild birds dead outdoors, and what to do when your pet bird reaches the end of its life.
We will also tell you how to deal with children’s grief over the loss of a pet, and how to hold a funeral for a dead bird.
When You Find a Dead Wild Bird, You Need to Make a Judgment About How It Died
You should always be appropriately curious about why a wild bird dies.
Why do you need to have some idea of why a bird died? Understanding the cause of death of one wild bird helps you prevent the unnecessary deaths of others.
Where you find the body of a dead bird is a strong indication of how it died.
If you find a dead bird at the bottom of your sliding glass doors, for example, it’s highly likely that the bird died by striking the glass.
If you find the intact body of a dead bird near a feeder, or at the base of a tree where it may have had a nest, or lying in the middle of your use, the likely cause is a disease.
Scattered feathers and mangled bodies are usually the work of predators.
Dead birds are a sign you need to do something differently. Maybe it’s cleaning your bird feeder more often.
Maybe it is moving a feeder either closer to or farther away from your window so birds won’t fly into it. Maybe it is just keeping your cat or dog inside.
What you don’t want to do is to spend too much time examining the dead bird’s body. The sooner you dispose of a dead bird’s body, the less likely it is that diseases or parasites will be spread by its remains.
Protect Yourself When Handling Dead Wild Birds
Never pick up a wild bird’s dead body with your bare hands. Always wear gloves, or at least pick up the bird with a plastic bag or with an old towel or dishcloth that you can throw away.
Birds carry ticks, mites, insects, and bacteria that can infect pets and people. Disposable gloves are best.
Don’t use the same gloves in which you handled a dead bird to handle bird seed or clean feeders, or for other home and garden chores.
But don’t handle a dead wild bird with your hands, even if you are wearing gloves, any more than is absolutely necessary.
It is best to move the bird with a garden trowel, or with a hoe or a rake.
Place the dead bird’s body on a piece of cardboard, in a shoebox, or in several layers of newspaper before disposing of it.
Next, you need to make sure pets, predators, and curious children can’t find the body.
Place the bird’s body in a plastic bag secured with a twist tie.
Then place the plastic bag in a covered trash can where it will be safe from curious children and from pets and predators looking for a quick meal.
Sterilize After Disposing of a Dead Wild Bird
Clean up any ooze or fluids. Sterilize gloves and any garden implements that touched the body of the bird with bleach.
Dig up the topsoil where the bird fell and move it to a compost pile (where it will be decontaminated by heat) or to the edge of your property.
Or if you can’t dig out the area where the dead bird lay, sterilize it with bleach. This may kill the grass but it will also kill any disease-causing germs.
Why go through all this trouble to sterilize hands and tools after handling a dead bird?
Birds can carry the ticks that spread Lyme disease. They can transmit Mycobacterium avium complex (MAC), bacteria that cause avian tuberculosis. This condition produces many of the same symptoms in people as other forms of tuberculosis, plus severe swelling of the lymph nodes.
Birds carry the organisms that can cause campylobacteriosis, cryptococcosis, cryptosporidiosis, eschericiosis, erysipelas, histoplasmosis, ornithosis, and salmonellosis.
Pets can get these diseases by eating wild birds, and children can catch them by handling dead bird bodies or bird droppings.
Histoplasmosis is especially dangerous for pregnant women, and cryptosporidiosis is potentially deadly for people who have compromised immune systems.
Always wash your hands with soap and water after handling a dead wild bird, even if you were wearing gloves.
Never Bury a Dead Wild Bird in Your Backyard
It’s never a good idea to bury a dead wild bird in your backyard. Predators like skunks, raccoons, and opossums will smell the body and dig it up.
They may get sick with whatever killed the bird, but if they don’t, they will come back to your yard looking for more.
Pets can also detect the scent of dead birds. They may dig to investigate the body and catch any mites, ticks, insects, or parasites it harbors.
When Do You Need to Report a Dead Wild Bird?
It is usually not necessary to report the death of a wild bird, but there are certain circumstances that wildlife conservation managers will want to know about:
The bird is tagged with a band or some other kind of tracking equipment
In this case, don’t bury the bird.
Let wildlife officials know that you have found the body, so they can retrieve the tracking equipment and update their records.
The bird is a species that is not usually found in your neighborhood
Wild birds in unusual locations can mean there has been a shift in migration patterns.
They may also have been poached in some other area and brought to your general location, and then let go.
Unusual cases may be a reason to update the ornithological records in your area.
The bird is a top predator
Raptors and other predatory birds receive the highest concentrations of pollutants and chemicals of any animal on their food chain.
Birds of prey that succumb to environmental problems are a harbinger of dangerous conditions for other birds, as well. Dead eagles, hawks, and owls are also sometimes the result of poaching.
The bird appears to have been shot
Both wildlife officials and the police will want to know about the discharge of a firearm within city limits.
Wildlife officials may also want to know about off-season hunting of wild birds.
The bird appears to have been killed by some other kind of human intervention
Wildlife officers want to know about birds that get caught in party balloons, or that choke on the plastic rings of six packs.
Several birds of the same species die at the same time, or within a few days of each other
This can indicate a disease that is going around in a particular species of bird.
Sometimes, wildlife officials are able to intervene with vaccinations or other treatments.
Sometimes, wildlife officials will just ask you for a photograph and the tracking tag, if any.
Don’t dispose of a bird’s body in the trash before speaking with wildlife officials in any of these situations.
If you choose to keep the bird in your freezer until you hear back from your state or provincial wildlife officials, make sure it is wrapped in plastic with a twist tie.
What to Do When a Pet Bird Dies
Sometimes a pet bird’s behavior serves as a warning that it is reaching the end of its life.
They may want to spend all their time at the bottom of their cage. They may stop eating and drinking.
Their tails may bob as they breathe. They may sneeze and wheeze, stop urinating or urinate too much, fluff their feathers, droop their wings, or strain to poop.
It is better to take a bird to an avian veterinarian for treatment before death becomes inevitable, but this is not always possible.
Pet birds sometimes die suddenly. This can happen after they eat chocolate or avocado.
Or when they chew into an electrical cord.
Birds die after exposure to fumes from hot Teflon-coated pans, and sometimes even after exposure to scented candles and air fresheners. Paint fumes and household cleaning products can be deadly.
Chances are that you will not want to take your bird to the vet for a necropsy.
A complete examination of your bird’s internal organs can cost $400 to $1,000, and sometimes the pathologist cannot determine the cause of death even after a complete autopsy.
It’s OK to bury your pet bird.
It’s OK to keep the body frozen until you can bury the bird, if you don’t have a yard of your own.
If you live in a high rise and you have a small bird like a parakeet, you can buy a large patio plant and bury your bird there.
Or you can take your bird’s body to a vet for cremation or burial in a pet cemetery.
If you have children, it is best to keep the cage, toys, and bird food out of sight after your bird dies.
These can be painful reminders of your bird’s death. But keep them if you plan to get another bird soon.
How to Hold a Bird Funeral
Children who find a dead wild bird may want to have a funeral for it.
The same rules for disposing of dead wild birds still apply, but you will have to take additional time to explain to your child that you are not buying the bird because you need to protect other birds.
Encourage children to look beyond one bird’s death to enjoy all the other birds that still come to your feeders.
You can plan a more formal ceremony to mark the passing of a pet bird. Do not bury a pet bird anywhere that your child is likely to discover that an animal has dug the body up!
Bury your bird with toys and mementos at least 2 feet (60 cm) deep, allowing your child and others to say a few words in memory of the bird before covering the body with dirt.
It is also possible to have pet birds buried in a pet cemetery, which will have more options for helping your children deal with sadness.
Pet birds can also be cremated, if it is appropriate for your family.
Frequently Asked Questions about What to Do with a Dead Bird
Q. What should I do if I find a dead bird when I am out hiking, or in a park?
A. If you find a dead bird when you are out enjoying nature, the best thing to do is to let nature take its course.
It’s OK to move it with a piece of cardboard or a throw-away towel to get it out of the middle of a hiking trail or a bicycle path, but do not bother with burying it or throwing it into the trash.
Let wildlife authorities know about the bird if you recognize it as an endangered species or if several birds seem to have died at the same time in the same place.
Q. Can I get West Nile Virus by handling a dead bird?
A. West Nile Virus is most likely to affect crows and blue jays.
The Centers for Disease Control says that you can’t get West Nile Virus by handling the body of a bird that died of the disease, but, as discussed earlier in this article, you should never handle a dead bird with your bare hands.
Q. How should I bury a dead pet chicken?
A. If you have a backyard chicken coop, it is OK to treat a dead chicken as a dead pet, but make sure you do not bury it in the same yard where you have live chickens unless you know the chicken did not die from a disease.
Other articles you may also like: