Why do you very rarely see dead birds when there must be hundreds of millions of them in America at any one time? Take for example pigeons in London, UK. They live for about four years. There should be piles of dead pigeons on the streets and in alleyways but nada, zilch. The mystery is fairly straightforward to resolve and cats (domestic and feral) are one of the players as are rats, foxes, gulls, crows and ravens.
These animals (and more) do a very proficient job of providing a cleaning service to the streets of towns and cities on the planet. The hover up carrion which they come across including deceased birds. It is much easier than hunting prey for the domestic and stray cat.
There is another aspect to this mystery. When birds are ill or injured they hide just like cats. They instinctively retreat to quiet, dark places such as ventilation systems, attics and abandoned buildings where they are unnoticed by predators. For a bird there appears to be no such things as dying of old age. As soon as birds show signs of sickness and frailty they are snapped up by cats, falcons and other predators.
And all this happens out of sight of humans. It is an ‘internal urban ecosystem’ played out in a world removed from human intervention and involvement. We are not interested and we don’t see it. The corpses of dead birds are consumed by cats and other predators before busy and self-obsessed humans get to notice.
I am thankful to Steve Portugal an ecophysiologist at Royal Holloway, University of London for confirming what I already knew in such a clear way. And Kaya Burgess of the Times for writing about it.
P.S. Even when birds are hunted by cats they are down the list of prey items as they are more difficult to catch than rodents and other ground dwelling prey.
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