Normally, birds show little to no variations in their routines on losing a baby. And so, it is assumed that they don’t mourn the loss of their offspring. However, certain songbirds do hold an avian version of a funeral. Besides, parent birds have been reported to hold their dead babies in attempts to resuscitate them.
We will go into much more detail in this article regarding birds and mourning
This is what you’ll discover
- Do birds grieve when their babies die?
- What do birds do with their dead babies?
- Why are birds so practical about death?
- Why do most baby birds die early?
- Do birds feel grief?
- How to help a grieving bird?
So if you’re interested in learning all about birds and how they grieve and how to help them you’re going to love this article!
Let’s get started!
Do Birds Grieve When Their Babies Die?
They do, but neither for prolonged periods nor with the same intensity.
Since one cannot directly ask a bird if it is grieving, the only way is to observe their behavioral changes. T
hough, a more discerning approach would be looking for variations in bird brain activity, especially in the hippocampus region.
But currently, no such study exists. And so,
There is no definite scientific evidence that birds grieve the loss of a baby.
Consequently, one can only theorize if birds feel grief or not.
That said, penguins tend to hold their dead frozen babies, often touching them with their bills as if trying to resuscitate them.
Sometimes, the whole flock joins in as if consoling the so-called grieving penguin parents.
Similar behavior is seen among corvids, where hundreds of crows descend from trees to hold a 20-minute funeral. Besides, magpies have been reported to put grass leaves around their dead.
John Marzluff, an avian-sociology professor, explains such behaviors are signs of grief.
Claiming that a bird does not mourn for its babies, is inappropriate.
But birds exhibit such tendencies from a few minutes to merely two days.
Some go as far as ignoring the dead.
So when a baby bird dies, what happens to the dead babies?
Let’s find out
What Do Birds Do With Their Dead Babies?
Usually, they either bury the dead bird within the nest or throw it out.
Well, that dead bird will not only attract insects and scavengers but may also transmit diseases to the living birds.
And so, cleaning the nest is far more important than keeping the dead nearby.
However, birds have different attitudes towards dead babies and non-viable eggs.
1. Dead Babies
But once they ensure it’s dead, they respond by pushing it aside.
- If the baby is small enough, say 1–2 days hatchling, then birds pick it up and throw it at least 3 feet away from the nest.
- If the baby is big enough not to be carried away, birds bury the fledgling under sticks and leaves within the nest. Such a dead bird gets trampled over and drained of its liquid. And so, it cannot cause any harm. This has been observed in bluebirds.
- Raptors like hawks, eagles, owls, and vultures normally eat their dead baby. While most songbirds avoid eating their dead birds. But some corvids do so, especially when food is relatively scarce.
While birds don’t abandon their nests, however, if all the fledglings within a nest die, then, parents will abandon the unsuccessful nesting site.
But incidents have been reported where doves regularly visit the sites where their babies died.
Even so, birds are not considered sentimental.
For instance, birds like robins would ignore even the live birds if they have fallen from the nest.
Related article – What do robins do when their babies die?
2. Dead Eggs
While first-time parents can find it hard to discriminate between the dead and the live eggs.
Most birds can tell if their egg is non-viable.
Avian experts suggest that most birds can tell the health of an egg by:
- Change in weight by drying out.
- Discoloration or turning brown.
- Putrid smell.
- Cessation of movement.
If a bird is doubtful about an egg, it will shove it to one side.
However, most birds will still incubate such an egg, perhaps out of hormonal instincts.
But if a bird is sure that egg is dead, then it may:
- Kick out the egg from the nest.
- Shove it deep within the nest.
- Ignore it completely.
That said, birds rarely eat their own eggs.
Since egg sac or white lining is nutrient-rich, therefore, it can easily grow decomposers.
And so, eating an egg can be quite messy.
Besides birds like bluebirds even throw away shells after the babies have hatched.
While avian experts often stipulate that, birds don’t feel the loss of eggs.
However, swans show signs of excessive sorrow with the presence of a non-viable egg.
3. Missing Eggs and Babies
But ospreys seem to show rather intense emotions when they cannot find their babies.
Despite that, ornithologists claim that birds feel temporary confusion when their eggs or babies go missing.
Mainly because most birds simply move on to form another nest, as if the missing or dead babies don’t matter much.
And so, you may wonder:
Why Are Birds So Practical About Death?
Perhaps, because they know survival is a war.
You see, typically only a quarter of eggs in a single clutch reach the stage of maturity.
Most eggs die before even becoming a nestling.
Why Do Most Baby Birds Die Early?
A hatchling is small and fragile as well as underdeveloped.
Such a bird is quite vulnerable and may die because of:
- Harsh weather conditions like storms, excessive heat, or cold.
- Dehydration or malnutrition.
- Inexperienced parrots squishing their own eggs.
- Sibling rivalry.
- Unfertilized or broken eggs.
- Parasites, insects, and diseases.
But why birds seem devoid of intense emotions can only be theorized.
Plausible Explanations of a Bird’s Practicality
The birds may be practical about death because they:
- See this as part of nature. And so, losing a few eggs is the cost of survival. However, birds losing their only egg tend to show depression for up to two weeks.
- Are too busy caring for the living that mourning is but a second thought. This has been observed in pigeons.
- Cannot count. And so, don’t even know if the baby is missing. This is authenticated from brood parasitism where a cuckoo may trick some other bird into caring for its own child. The cuckoo mostly throws out the host bird’s eggs.
- Are not conscious enough to perceive death as primates do. Some even suggest that only intelligent birds mourn the loss of their babies.
- Are psychologically equipped to deal with death. It’s because parrots express a range of emotions. So, birds controlling their reaction is still a plausible explanation.
So, if you are to ask:
Do Birds Feel Grief?
They certainly do.
But the extent of their grief varies with species, their connection and time with the lost soul as well as their ability to express pain.
And so, grief is more pronounced when a monogamous bird loses its long-term mate.
This is most common among red-tailed Amazons, Macaws, cocktails, penguins, ducks, and pigeons.
Here are a few of the examples of birds expressing grief:
- Geese have been reported to die of heartbreak, with a mate dying within three months of losing its partner.
- Parent birds may visit their failed nesting sites.
- Eskimo curlews circle over their hunted flock member. While Kenn Kaufman describes that as mere confusion, he also suggests that this may be birds expressing sorrow.
- Jays gather around a dead fellow and shriek.
- Corvids hold a funeral unlike any other family of birds.
In the 1990s, a series of experiments were conducted on birds.
Some windowed birds were reported to have found a new mate within half an hour.
Nonetheless, birds do have nerve endings and a Parasympathetic nervous system essential to feel pain.
But if you own birds, you may be wondering:
How to Tell If a Bird is Depressed?
- Anxiety e.g. Pacing vigorously, head bobbing, sleeping at odd times.
- Lethargy and reduced interest in regular activities.
- Rough appearance.
- Refusing to eat.
- Aggressive behavior like shrieking.
- Self-mutilation by picking or biting itself.
- Change in droppings.
- Reluctance to leave its cage.
If your bird has recently started to show such signs then,
I advise you to see a vet immediately, especially if one of your birds has died recently.
Is it possible to help a grieving bird?
What could you do?
Let’s find out..
How Do You Help a Grieving Bird?
You may help by:
- Showing the dead bird to your grieving bird. This will allow your bird to accept its pain.
- Establishing and strictly following a routine.
- Getting another bird or new toys.
- Changing the cage location.
- Spending quality time with your bird.
- Feeding favorite treats.
- Removing only one dead egg a day to not cause any stress.
Birds do feel grief.
However, the extent and manifestation of their sorrow are usually limited.
And so, they never mourn the loss of a baby for more than two weeks.
This is often regarded as birds being practical.
However, certain birds hold funerals.
And some even show signs of depression with the loss of a mate.