Friday 17 February 2017

Avian Roadside Fatalities

This post includes images that some readers might find disturbing.

When I was up in Algonquin, I found a fairly large group of about 90 Pine Siskins.

But I also unfortunately found nine fatalities…10% of the flock.

So what were these “suicidal” finches doing on the highway? Well, they were getting the grit from the side of the road, which they require for digestion. Also, the road salt on the road seems to attract the finches, but the toxins in the salt impair the birds response, therefore meaning by the time they notice the vehicle coming, for some of them, it's too late. 

Although I only saw deceased Pine Siskins, there are many more birds that are killed by cars such as crossbills, grosbeaks, goldfinches, grouse, and even owls.
Red Crossbill

Pine Grosbeak

So, what do you do if you come across birds gritting on the road? You should slow down and honk your horn (be careful not to confuse other drivers), or if you’re interested in the birds, pull over onto the shoulder and observe them.

Obviously, there will never be an end to avian roadkill…the birds need grit which is on the road and us humans need the road to get from place to place. These two things together unfortunately equal a few flattened birds.

There is a positive side to the casualties, however. For scavengers like foxes and ravens, a siskin is a bite sized morsel of energy to get them through the harsh winter. Also, birds, such as the Gray Jay, may use the feathers to line their nests.

Well, that was a pretty depressing post, but I hope someone learned something.


  1. Definitely a sorry state of affairs, but it is good to talk about it. Hopefully any scavengers that attempt to take advantage of the deceased birds are a little more alert to escape the traffic if necessary!

    1. Well, I didn't see any dead ravens on the road, so their flight response must not me impaired.