Help! Need a Bird Forensic Scientist

retiredprof(7)May 24, 2009

Hi, folks! I already posted this in the bird-watching forum, but thought I would do so here as well. I know a lot of us also are wild bird friends, so maybe you would have some insight.

As you know, I'm in northern DE, living in a pretty standard suburban plot. I've been feeding the wild birds for years (finches, sparrows, cardinals, mourning doves). The yard is totally fenced in with stockade, so critters have been limited to bunnies, a ground hog, and a couple black snakes. I do have a pond stocked with goldfish which an egret visits from time to time.

Over the last two days I have found three dead birds in the yard. Small birds--two sparrows and finch. All were found in a pile of feathers, head missing and disemboweled. The rest of the carcass is intact.

What is happening here? This couldn't be a snake, right? It would eat the entire bird. These are not babies, either.

Now...I should mention that I did see a large bird in the trees yesterday and my first guess at ID was a hawk. Never saw one here before. Could this be the culprit? Does it sound like hawk MO?


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morz8(Washington Coast Z8b)

No scientist here but my guess would be hawk. If they were immature birds, crows and jays will certainly pull chicks from their nests.

About a month ago we had just returned home, casually commented the large numbers of robins in our yard and the neighboring yards. Not 15 minutes later, DH noticed feathers as he passed a window and on closer look - a hawk, probably Coopers, dining on a robin where we had walked through to our door just minutes earlier.

Too late to save the robin, we left hawk alone and it spent close to an hour on the ground feasting. Not easy to watch.

I have seen smaller hawks here making a dive for small birds at feeders - chickadees are normally the first to sound the alarm and there are enough trees, shrubby and dense plants for cover that the hawks usually aren't successful.... the robin was a different story. If you don't have adequate cover or places for escape you might consider not feeding for a bit until the hawk (if it is a hawk) moves on.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2009 at 2:37PM
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nancy_drew(5 nw chgo burbs)

We used to have a colony of feral cats living near us, the complex is near a few very small farms. I watched one of them do exactly that, to a bird that was in a bush next to my patio. She did it right in front of me, but it was so quick that I didn't even realize what she had done, till it was dead on my patio!

I hated to clean it up, it broke my heart... but at the same time I knew that a feral cat, has to do what a feral cat does... besides, she was hungry.

The feral cats aren't around anymore. I have a feeling the den of coyotes got them... just doing what a coyote does when it gets hungry.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 7:17PM
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My guess would be a cat as well, doesn't even have to be feral. The hawks I have around here (Coopers) just leave a circle of feathers. They don't leave a thing. A well fed housecat, however will leave the "nasty bits" as you have described.

    Bookmark   May 25, 2009 at 11:13PM
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Thanks, folks. The consensus here and on the Bird Forum seems to point to a cat as the culprit. Never entered my mind--haven't seen any cats around here for a long time and the dogs are pretty vigilant. But it certainly makes sense that one could easily enter the yard.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 8:18AM
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bakemom_gw(z6 Central Ohio)


    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 9:51AM
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My SIL always finds dead birds in her yard also. She insists on putting these HUGMONGO bags of birdseed out ALLTHETIME.

I tell her she's making a hawkfeeder cuz she puts it out in the open. birdies dont stand a chance against the coopers hawk.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 3:31PM
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Definitely a cat, I would think it is a housecat too, because well fed house cats don't need to eat a bird in order to survive. (some ferals are pretty well fed by humans, too) Cats are notorious hunters and often torture their prey for kicks. My SIL has multiple cats, and one's MO is to go for the brain, another went for the heart, and left the rest of the body intact. My little kitty is the sweetest girl in the world, but when she lived outside before I took her, she was a cold blooded killer!


    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 5:41PM
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nancy_drew(5 nw chgo burbs)

Amy, don't ever think that a well fed house cat won't kill a bird! I have been owned by cats all my life, and every one of them, that were both indoor and outdoor cats, brought me "gifts". Cats are never fully tame, that's why you can't train them like a dog. In the mind of a cat, they need you for nothing! They may love you, but they know they are perfectly capable of fending for themselves. I have had INDOOR house cats, catch an occasional mouse that got inside. The instinct for hunting never goes away in a cat.

    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 6:52PM
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Definitely Nancy. I think a housecat probably did the killings, because a stray cat would eat the whole thing for survival whereas a housecat, who is well fed, kills for sport. My outdoor cats always killed birds, and left them on the porch as gifts. All Cats love to hunt.


    Bookmark   May 26, 2009 at 7:56PM
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nancy_drew(5 nw chgo burbs)

I'm sorry Amy, I misread your post, as if you were saying it was NOT a house cat! It's kind of amazing how cats are one beast in the house, and then turn completely "wild" when they go outside!

    Bookmark   May 27, 2009 at 10:03AM
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