For many people, we don’t fully appreciate how much we take birds for granted until we find one dead.
Yet one should ask a key question when facing this predicament: how do I dispose of the body?
In this article, we’ll go over the simple steps you need to follow to properly dispose of a dead bird. We’ll also cover how you can report a bird to authorities.
The First Thing To Do
The first step that you should do upon finding a bird carcass is to attempt to discern its cause of death.
Of course, if you observed the bird strike a window firsthand or saw it come to an end after a cat’s attack, you’ll already know the cause.
Why, you might ask, should I try to figure out how the bird died? What use is that? Well, in many cases, it’s totally fine to dispose of the body immediately.
However, some birds die from malignant diseases and parasites that, if left unreported, can spread among the local bird population.
Take the time to look at the bird—without touching it—and see if there are signs of disease.
Birds who have succumbed to disease often show signs of their cause of death on their body. Pox lesions and other signs of advanced disease are one thing to be aware of.
If there are no outward signs that the bird died from a contagious disease, then it probably died from one of the following reasons:
- Window collision
- Predator attacks from the air
- Predators on the ground
- Common avian illnesses
Certain types of birds that you find dead should warrant a call and a report to your state’s Department of Natural Resources and any wildlife agency.
If you find large birds of prey (eagles, hawks, and owls, for example) dead, definitely report it.
In addition, report any dead birds which appear to be pet species, foreign birds, vultures, or any bird that appears to have been shot.
Local authorities will greatly appreciate your support.
Consider Making A Report To The USDA
Remember, if you find a dead bird that doesn’t have any outward signs of disease, you aren’t obligated to report the bird.
It is worthwhile checking out your state’s stance on dealing with diseased birds.
If you have any suspicion that your bird may have died from advanced disease, the best thing to do is contact your local and state health department or state wildlife agency.
In many cases, dead birds can fall prey to the West Nile virus or avian botulism and influenza.
These are fatal diseases transmitted to birds all across the country from mosquitoes and other diseased vectors.
Whether you’re an expert birder with experience identifying avian diseases or just a person concerned for local wildlife, don’t hesitate to report the dead bird sighting.
Call the United States Department of Agriculture’s Wildlife Services site for more information.
In general, here’s a good rule of thumb to follow. If you have any doubt that a bird died from natural reasons such as hitting a window or dying from a predator, try to report it.
Local Wildlife Agencies will do all they can to make reporting a dead bird easy and quick. Usually, all that’s required is for you to bag the animal and deliver it to the experts safely.
Step-By-Step Guide To Disposing A Dead Bird
Whether or not you’ve decided to report a bird death to local Wildlife agencies or the USDA in general, you’ll have to pick it up and dispose of it properly.
Let’s dig into the instructions.
Confirm That The Bird Is Dead
Birds, from the most fragile songbird to the Bald Eagle, have remarkably strong bodies. We see birds spring up from the yard minutes after striking a window, good as new.
Following that logic, don’t assume that a common pigeon or barn swallow dies instantly from a window collision.
The animal can remain on the ground for quite a while before it revives itself.
Leave the bird alone at least five minutes before approaching it. The best policy is to press a long stick or object into the bird’s body to be 100% sure it died.
Do Not Pick The Bird Up Unprotected
The best way for an infected bird (and any wild animal) to pass on dangerous diseases to humans is through touch. So, always retrieve a dead bird from the ground with gloves.
If you don’t have gloves, the best alternative is to use a trash bag. Invert the bag around your hand like a doggie bag, making sure there are no holes in the plastic surface.
Birds have many sharp, pointed parts on their bodies. Their legs, talons, and beaks are all sharp enough to penetrate the skin.
Failing to wear protection could spell danger if the bird pricks your skin. You don’t want to open yourself up to the possibility of contracting a disease.
Move The Bird To A Safe Location
Now that you’re protected with a plastic covering, it’s time to move the bird’s body. We recommend using a tool like a shovel or a rake. These objects will keep the bird at a distance.
If you can find a shovel or rake, it’s still worthwhile wearing gloves or hand protection. As soon as a bird dies, it begins to decay. Bacteria and viruses lying dormant in the bird can pass on to you.
Whether you’re moving the bird by gloved hand or with a tool, transport the body to a safe place where you can wrap it up for disposal. It’s best not to bring the bird into a living space.
Prepare The Bird For Disposal
Decades ago, it was common practice to dispose of dead animals by simply tossing them in the trash. Now, with the help of governmental agencies that study birds, we know better.
Today, the best technique to prepare a bird for disposal is to wrap the body. Why? Simple, birds can’t spread disease as fast if they are covered in layers of plastic.
There are several ways to wrap a dead bird. The most common way is with an inverted garbage bag or doggie bag.
Simply grasp the bag (preferably layer up two or three), cover the bird with the plastic, then flip the bag inside out, removing your hand.
Tie the bags while carefully avoiding any sharp edges from the bird’s beak or talons.
Another technique is to use ordinary plastic bags.
The idea is the same: retrieve the bird from the ground, place it on a non-hygienic surface, then wrap the bird in multiple bags.
Dispose Of The Dead Bird
Now that the bird is properly wrapped up, the next concern is avoiding insects and potential scavengers from becoming attracted to the carcass.
Double-bagging the bird is the best way to limit the bird’s exposure to invasive animals. Raccoons, rats, and insects will smell the body almost instantly, so you want to put as many barriers around the bird as you can.
Where should you throw away the bird? Ideally, you could dispose of it in an outdoor trash can that you throw debris in.
In other words, an outdoor bin that’s okay to smell a bit.
If you don’t have a dedicated outdoor rubbish bin, just make sure you throw the wrapped bird body in the trash and take the trash outdoors as soon as possible.
Disinfect everything that made contact with the bird, including your hands. To be especially hygienic, wash the surface of the shovel or rake you used.
Scavengers will be attracted to any surface that touched the bird, so you want to limit your chance of meeting those critters.
If you have pets that run around, sniff, and play in the area where the bird died, inspect the area. There could be blood or organic material still in the grass. If so, remove all traces.
FAQs on Disposing of Dead Bird
We’ve covered every aspect of disposing of a dead bird. Yet, many people might still have concerns about this sensitive topic.
Below, we’ve taken a crack at some common questions.
Can I Get West Nile Virus From Birds?
Currently, there’s no evidence that bare-handed touching of a bird carcass can transmit the West Nile virus.
Still, wrapping your hand is the best way of limiting your chance of contacting sores or open wounds in the body.
Why Isn’t My Local Wildlife Agency Not Collecting Dead Birds?
Every jurisdiction in the US has its Wildlife protocols.
Now that the West Nile virus, for instance, has been found in all contiguous US states, some agencies no longer collect data.
How Do I Know If A Dead Bird Has The West Nile Virus?
Over 300 bird species in the US and Canada have contracted the West Nile virus in the past. Most common birds do not die from the virus, though.
Some birds are more susceptible to death—crows and jay species in particular.
The process of properly cleaning up and disposing of dead birds doesn’t take any special skill. All in all, it won’t take longer than five minutes.
Nevertheless, there is a small chance that you could accidentally come in contact with the carcass and endanger yourself. Take all the precautions listed above, and you will be safe and sound.
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