Why don't we see birds die of natural causes?

Unless the local cat “does in” a flying friend, I have never seen a bird die of natural causes. One would think that occasionally, a bird would drop out of formation in a flock to its death… or out of a line of birds sitting on a telephone wire, one would “meet its Maker” and just go thump on the ground. Why don’t we ever see this? I don’t think birds have a “happy hunting ground” to which they retreat to die of natural causes. What gives?

Where are all the dead pigeons

Birds don’t just drop to the ground as you seem to suggest. In fact, not many animals do die a quick death aside from instant death injuries (like breaking the neck), drowning, and being killed by predators. Actually I would like to know where you got that idea. Even most people don’t just suddenly drop dead.

The reason birds don’t just drop from a flock dead is that the birds, like people, become sluggish as they approach death. They gradually lose the strength to fly. Note the word gradually, which tells us they don’t just drop from telephone wires. They seek sheltered areas near food where they could rest, leaving them a chance of survival. In order not to be exposed to predators, the weaker they get, the more they go into seclusion. Thus, they are out of your line of sight before they even die.

Also, not many birds die of what you would call “old age.” Before they can even reach that age, they lose the ability to protect territory and fall victom to disease or starvation.

Cecil’s column on pigeons does not emphasize the way they die, just why no one can find carcasses. And it only focuses on pigeons.

Actually, just last weekend when I was on Catalina island I did see a bird that seemed to have just “dropped dead.” I didn’t see it fall, but it was lying under a tree without apparent injuries. It didn’t stay there very long, though–I imagine either a street sweeper or a scavanger got it. Corpses disappear fast in nature, especially little ones.

I see thousands of humans every day, and I’ve never seen any of them drop dead. Same reason, I expect.

A couple of weeks ago a Canadian goose parked itself on the grass outside our office building, tucked it’s bill under its wing and took a nap. When it failed to wake up for a day or so, we came to the conclusion that it had picked a nice spot to expire. By the end of the second day, it was still in the same position, but it was beginning to attract flies. The building management removed it on the third day.

So, at least one bird did “join the choir invisible” publicly.

If you didn’t see it fall, only a forensics expert could tell you if it fell from the tree.

I guess it probably sought the shelter under the tree. Or it could’ve fallen as you suggest.

In all my years observing birds, I’ve seen just only one pick up and die (without the aid of a window or predator). Two years ago, I was coming up to an intersection in central NJ. I saw a Blue Jay sitting on a branch hanging over the intersection and being a corvidophile (lover of jays, magpies, crows and ravens), I watched this bird. It caught my eye because it had just landed. It looked around a bit and keeled over. Landed in the middle of the intersection. Wow. (Ironically, I was on my way over to one of the labs to drop off a window strike victim - a Hermit Thrush.) I picked up the jay and it is in the freezer, awaiting testing for West Nile virus.

I agree with Wood Thrush - if birds are ill, they’re unlikely to be flying but will go into seclusion. The only place where I think you might be able to see birds dropping out of the sky is on certain migration routes. Blackpoll Warblers fly out over the Atlantic before heading back toward South America and I imagine those that didn’t gas up properly for the flight might wind up a bit short of landfall.

I didn’t see it die, but when I was in high school there was a crow that apparently decided his final resting place would be a branch in our back yard. The odd thing is, and I am not making this up, is that he died perched on the branch. He stayed that way for over a month until one day he was just gone.

I also believe that other birds will kill off a wounded or obviously sick bird. I’ve seen docile little parakeets do this myself. So I would imagine it also takes place in the wild.


I had a cockatoo that was bleeding from his vent. (He recovered and had no further problems) When I told the vet that he was not acting ill he told me that birds that flock will not tolerate a sick bird in their midst. As a result a bird will not act sick unless it has no choice. This is necessary for the health of the flock.

Years ago I watched a crow (or some other largeish black bird) take to the air, ascend rapidly to probably 100 feet or so, then suddenly plummet - gracelessly and at great speed - to the ground. Whump! I was a passenger in a passing car at the time, so I wasn’t able to verify that the bird was dead. (But after that fall, I’d guess most things would be.) It was a suburban area, so it seems unlikely that the bird was shot. I figure people have heart attacks - why not birds, every now and then?