The Mystery of the Dead Bird

By Jerry Angst 2009, 2021


Chapter 1:
One morning in the Summer of 2009, I happened to notice a dead bird laying in my driveway, which was not an unusual occurrence at that time of the year. But when I walked past it again a few hours later, I noticed that it had moved about a foot from where it was when I had last seen it. There was even a line in the gravel showing how far it had crawled. At that point, I assumed that when I saw it the first time it wasn't quite dead, and in its death throes, it managed to crawl a short distance. After looking at it more closely this time, I was sure it was dead now, and that it wasn't going to move anymore. However, the next morning I again walked past the dead bird, and to my surprise it had moved again.......this time three or four feet. I was stumped, but I didn't notice anything else suspicious (just the line in the gravel indicating where it had moved) and I soon forgot about it.

Chapter 2:
A few days later I was reading the most recent edition of the "Minnesota Conservation Volunteer", when I noticed that a reader had contributed the following question to the section titled "Natural Curiosities":

Question:   I looked out our deck door one evening and saw a dead bird that must have hit a window. It began moving slightly and I realized that many bees were going in and out of it, and they seemed to be causing it to move! The next morning I looked out and noticed that it was about a yard from where it had been the night before. What was going on?

That sounded mysteriously like what I had witnessed a few days before, so I read on.

Answer:   Hornets, also known as Yellowjackets, feed on dead flesh in late summer, says DNR entomologist Robert Dana. There is a good chance that's what you observed. Another possibility is that the movement was caused by carrion beetles. These black-and-orange insects will transport carcasses and even bury them.

Chapter 3:
That probably explains it. The dead bird was being scavenged by bees (although I didn't notice any bees at the time), and their movement into and out of the carcass pushed it along the driveway leaving the trail behind it. It was quite a coincidence that I happened to read that article a few days after I noticed that the dead bird in driveway had moved. Interesting, eh?

Epilog:
By the way, are you familiar with the "Minnesota Conservation Volunteer"? It's a great little magazine which is published six times a year by the Minnesota DNR. It's full of interesting articles and information. You'd love it. To find out more about it or to sign up for it, click HERE.