When songbirds endeavor to head hundreds or thousands of miles south they are risking everything in order to find a place that they can winter and hopefully survive in order to head back north and breed. Migration is the single most dangerous thing that birds do and many don’t survive as Greg pointed out in his recent post. Humans have made migration much more difficult with our roads, our huge glass buildings, our rapacious appetite for development, our introduction of predators. It is a wonder that any songbirds survive at all considering the changes we have wreaked on the landscape.

A recent visit to Fort Tilden, on the coast of Queens, provided two examples in about fifteen minutes of how difficult it is for songbirds to find their way south. Another recent visit to Kissena Corridor Park in central Queens provided a couple of more examples.

A warning – there are some graphic images of dead birds in this post. If you don’t want to see such things may I recommend checking out something cute?

It somehow seems unfair that a bird that that has lived through innumerable dangers from when it was born, through its first migration south, a full winter, another migration to the north, breeding season, and another trip south could meet its end in the mouth of a cat. But that is what I believed happened to this Common Yellowthroat which I found dead in Kissena Corridor Park which has great habitat for birds but also hosts a feral cat colony.

dead Common Yellowthroat

Please, keep your cats indoors.

Another major hazard for migrating birds is roads. Some birds mistake a wet road for a river and entire flocks of loons and grebes have been known to crash land and be stranded on pavement. But even more dangerous are cars. Here an American Crow flies off with the remains of an unidentified bird that was crushed by a car.

American Crow carrying a road-killed bird

Some birds die anonymously on their long trek – unmourned, unloved, and unknown. I think this was once a Yellow-rumped Warbler but I failed to examine it carefully, wanting to focus much more on living birds. I don’t know its cause of death but I suspect it might have been the plaything of a cat in its final moments. No other predator that I know of in North America kills and sometimes leaves its prey entirely intact, uneaten.

unknown dead bird

What really bothers me is when people take issue with hawks and falcons taking songbirds and try to blame the decline of songbird species on the rebound that birds of prey have experienced since killing them for sport or poisoning them with DDT became illegal. Songbirds have migrated through the gauntlet of natural predators for millenia but it is only in recent times that they have been crashing, largely because of habitat loss and the barriers we put in their way. If a songbird must die on its trip it seems only right that it should fuel another migrant bird, in this case a Merlin at Fort Tilden.

migrating Merlin eating a bird

Birds migrate. Many die. Let’s try to make it as easy as possible for them by keeping cats indoors, providing habitat, and not stressing birds as they make their way to their wintering grounds. We do want birds to be successful so our children and grandchildren can appreciate them too, right?

Written by Corey
Corey is a New Yorker who lived most of his life in upstate New York but has lived in Queens since 2008. He's only been birding since 2005 but has garnered a respectable life list by birding whenever he wasn't working as a union representative or spending time with his family. He lives in Forest Hills with Daisy and Desmond Shearwater. His bird photographs have appeared on the Today Show, in Birding, Living Bird Magazine, Bird Watcher's Digest, and many other fine publications. He is also the author of the American Birding Association Field Guide to the Birds of New York.