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Critters of New York

We Regret to Inform You That It’s Dead Baby Bird Season

It's a tough time of the year for people who hate stepping on squished animals.

A dead nestling bird on the sidewalk of NYC.
Argh! (Hell Gate)

There are many wonderful things about spring in New York City. There's a palpable sense of release and levity; jerk chicken sizzles on barrel grills; flowers bloom behind "CURB YOUR DOG" signs; people flock to parks, stroll down city streets, and congregate on stoops to enjoy the sunshine; we smile at each other more.

But one feature of springtime is less likely to evoke warm fuzzy feelings than it is a sense of, "ah, fuck, ew"—I'm referring of course to the brief but explosive proliferation of pancaked, dead baby birds that decorate the city's sidewalks this time of the year. According to the New York Audubon Society, bird nesting behavior peaks in late spring, but the dead baby bird (DBB) microseason seems, at least anecdotally, to begin earlier—sometime in mid-April—and end around the middle of June.

Dang. (Hell Gate)

This year, I spotted my first DBB at the beginning of May. I was walking to my nearest bodega when I locked eyes with the unseeing orb in its crushed skull and grimaced. I didn't snap a picture—I'm not one of those dead bird girls on Instagram—but I did make a mental note to keep an eye on the progress of its decay. 

Careful observers (me) know that even squished baby birds on the sidewalk have their own afterlife cycle.

Ugh, God, sorry! (Hell Gate)
Really hate this. (Hell Gate)

First, the baby bird, naked and afraid, falls from its nest onto the sidewalk, where it dies. (According to a story from the Philadelphia Inquirer on this same phenomenon, these baby birds in their first two weeks of life may tumble from their nests by accident, or after being scared by predators, or while simply trying to fly too early. Aww!) Then, someone steps on the DBB, or it falls victim to the wheels of an e-bike, mail cart, or stroller, which means the baby bird's entrails are squeezed out onto the sidewalk like so much toothpaste. Next, some kind of animal, maybe a poorly supervised dog or an outdoor cat, or just a swarm of ants, happens on the corpse and eats away at part of its exposed guts. As the bird gets progressively less recognizable, it becomes fodder for the soles of inattentive New Yorkers, too busy go-go-go-ing to watch where they step. And somewhere in there, it rains, and the cycle repeats until recognizable features of the dead baby bird are washed away and all that's left is a grayish-black smudge—you know the kind. They're everywhere, and you probably step on them every time you go outside.

This one's not so bad, almost? (Hell Gate)

Realistically, there's nothing to be done about the onslaught of dead baby birds that happens this time of year. They're a fact of city living—of living anywhere, honestly, that has both birds, more than half of which die in their first year of life, and sidewalks for them to die on. You're going to see them and be grossed out by them; you're probably even more likely to notice them this year, now that you've read a whole blog dedicated to their existence. (Sorry.) All you can really do is be careful where you step—and brace yourself for New York's actual worst microseason: Summer Intern Orientation Month.

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