I posted an article a while back about birds. Yesterday I received this email, which I’m posting with my response. I hope you find it interesting!
I enjoyed your article on interactions with birds, but it didn’t cover birds’ deaths. I believe there’s no such thing as a coincidence. The following happened to me one day last week. I read your article the next day.
I was sitting on my front porch in middle of a day when a young robin flew over me, hit a window on my house and fell, literally, right at my feet. The bird’s eyes were open, so I quietly talked to him as I moved him into the shade. I hoped he was just stunned, but he soon died. It was so sad.
What deeper message can be found from a bird dying that way?
My answer to Ashley:
I’m sorry you experienced that. I too find it upsetting when it happens to me. I’ve extensively worked with and studied birds, so I’ll happily address your questions.
People are often exposed t death in nature: from seeds germinating in spring, to mosses going dormant in summer, to leaves changing colors and falling off trees in autumn. But the most difficult deaths in nature involve animals, because they’re most like us.
So let’s begin by considering some biological factors why birds fly into windows. Robins especially are known to attack their own reflections, causing them to generally get confused and to fly into windows. This is especially true during and near their breeding season
In the intersections between the world of humans and the world of wildlife, which grows larger every day, it’s getting harder to avoid this type of interaction.
Birds that have ingested pesticides can experience neurological stupor and accidentally fly into windows. So can young birds, who are learning to determine the differences between their own reflection and another bird. According to the Audubon Society, attacking another bird is a territorial behavior.
But there could be other reasons that specific robin did that. Generalizing animal behavior to a single reason doesn’t make sense. We wouldn’t do this for people or for another species.
It can be hard to determine exactly why that particular robin did that in that particular moment. Maybe it was ill, or confused. Or, like you asked, perhaps the event was intended as a message.
Caring for Injured Wild Birds
Whatever the cause, the best thing to do for a bird that was injured in this way is to move it out of the sun, and place it in a cozy raised box where it can fly off from safely. Provide food and water source if you can. Offer a few dried mealworms. If it’s cool out, try to provide some warm bedding (be sure it’s something you don’t mind soil on).
Most importantly, don’t stand over it and obsess anxiously! That will just stress the bird more. So just provide the setup, give it some time and hope for the best.
If you’ve noticed a broken wing, or that the bird is still alive but not flying away and you don’t have an incubator, call a local wildlife rehabilitation center to see what they suggest, or if they can receive the bird. Wildlife rehab centers generally have more resources, space and time to accommodate wildlife’s unique considerations and needs. (A side note: please consider volunteering at a wildlife rehab facility. They could use your help!)
Most times, a bird that flies into a window will just be stunned and will eventually recover and fly off leaving you to return to an empty shoe box with the satisfaction of a job well done.
If the bird does die and you suspect pesticide poisoning or illness, don’t “return it to the ecosystem.” Pesticides move up the food pyramid. So bury the body deeply in the soil so it can’t easily be dug up, or respectfully place it in the trash.
Finding Deeper Meaning
What could the event mean for you symbolically?
Let it serve as a reminder of the fragility of life. Give extra kisses and affection to your own loved ones, as they (and we) won’t be around forever, either.
If things like this are frequently happening to you, you should consider processing the accumulated experiences as a possible calling. Helping souls transition from life to death is actually a profession, called a “death midwife,” or a “psychopomp.” Experiences can build up to point where you need to consider this as a career or a life purpose.
Death midwifery is common in shamanistic communities. It’s basically like a reverse of birth midwifing. It can be more emotional, though. Instead of bringing souls into the world, you’re helping a soul transition out of it.
While this transition generally isn’t an issue for animals, death midwives are a tremendous help in their communities. They help reduce the number of lingering earthbound spirits. They help the living who sense such spirits to lead more peaceful lives. They help prepare the living about what to expect in death. They make the transition easier for the dying person. And they assure those left behind that their loved one made a successful transition to the afterlife.
Birds and Mortality
Here are some biological notes about robins’ mortality rates that may help you feel better. Robins, as well wild birds overall, have high mortality rates in their youth Somewhere around 80 percent of robins naturally die before they fledge. These deaths are the result of disease, predators, accidents, and parental abandonment.
Special window decals were designed to prevent birds flying into windows. To reduce the likelihood of future window collisions, consider applying such a decal. Choose one that helps the birds identify the presence of a solid surface, that decreases the birds’ reflection, and that isn’t scary.
A series of decals or refractive objects helps steer young birds away from your windows. Window feeders can also help communicating to the birds that there’s a wall. Such feeders also create a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for your forest friends.
A final note: It’s normal to see uninjured fledglings on the ground. It’s likely that the parents are nearby, watching over it. So as tempting as it may be, don’t interfere. It’s natural for us to want to help. But as hard as it may be, stand back and let nature do its job.