Monday, January 10, 2011

Dead Bird at the Feeder

Here's what the coulees of west central Wisconsin looked like at 2:30pm today.    Bone-chilling cold.  Snow is in the forecast - again.  We were out looking for raptors in all the usual places.  When the sky clouded over, we headed home and spent the rest of the afternoon checking out the birds at the feeders.

When I started feeding birds years ago, I knew I was doing it for my own entertainment.  I had no illusions that I was "helping" birds survive the winter.  In fact, I still feel some "guilt" about luring birds to an unnatural feeding situation which exposes them to disease and predation.

I do my best to minimize disease transmission.  I'm meticulous about keeping the feeders clean and sanitized.  In the winter, I wash them in hot soapy water every week.  I rake up the debris on the ground below the feeders daily.  And I don't use "mixed" seeds.   I put separate seeds - nyjer, sunhearts, black-oil sunflower, corn and millet - in separate feeders.  

When I spot a finch with conjunctivitis, I take down my feeders and sanitize them in a 10% bleach solution.  I wait for the "sick" bird to disperse before I re-install the feeders.

To minimize predation, I put my feeders close to cover and minimize window collisions by soaping the reflective glass and installing flash tape.

Still, this winter has been particularly tough for songbirds (deer and rabbits too).  It's not easy for animals to get to food under the deep snow with an icy crust.  I marvel at their ability to survive a "real" winter.  And I empathize when I see animals that don't have what it takes.

The other day - at 10am, I spotted a "hatch year" American Goldfinch "sleeping" in my Droll Yankees feeder. 

I went outside to get a closer look.  The bird didn't fly off.  I stood still and watched.  Then I saw her shiver.  She was obviously stressed.  So I went back indoors and watched from my kitchen window.

About an hour later, she was on the ground - literally belly up.  Dead.

I grabbed some plastic gloves and went outside to see if I could figure out why she died.  I blew on her chest to check for fat.  She didn't have any fat deposits - and very little muscle.  While I have no way of knowing the primary cause of death, this bird was starving when she died. 

I left her on the snow and went back inside the house.

How long would it take for a predator to claim her?

I watched for an hour (all the while thinking:  the watched pot... ).  I left the window to make a cup of coffee.  When I returned the body was gone.

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