Worried reader is spooked by dead birds

Illustration by Bo Brown

Dear Benny,
There seem to be too many dead birds across the medical campus. Each day as I leave the parking garage, en route to lab, I see at least one dead bird in front of Stellar-Chance Labs. Also, when I was talking with a friend outside the Rhoads Pavilion entrance, a bird dropped from a tree. Is there something in the air we should be concerned with? Or should the humane society be contacted to investigate why so many birds are found dead on Penn’s campus?
— Concerned Observer

Dear Bird-Watcher,
Have you ever walked into a sliding glass door by accident?

I’m not being flip by asking this question. It’s akin to a possible cause of those dead birds you see around Stellar-Chance—namely, they flew into windows.

“We do have problems with birds flying into windows on occasion,” Michael Coleman, campus central services director in Facilities Services, told me.

There are other reasons you may see dead birds around you. They might be the leftovers of a hawk’s meal, for instance. “Some consider it gross, but it’s totally natural,” Coleman said. “Hawk nesting in cities has been encouraged to control the pigeon population.”

Director of Environmental Health and Radiation Safety Matt Finucane is not aware of any environmental problems that may be causing excess bird kill in the area around the Medical School—or elsewhere in the city, for that matter. “Not even the city keeps track of bird kill,” he said.

The city and state test dead birds for West Nile virus from time to time, however. If you spot a dead bird, you should call the Philadelphia Department of Public Health at 215-685-9027; they may pick up the bird to test it for West Nile.

Finally, as Finucane said, “Birds die. If it was a pigeon, mind you, that’s a good thing. West Nile occurs mainly in blue jays, owls, hawks and crows.”

For more information, see “I Found a Dead Bird—Now What?” on the Environmental Health and Radiation Safety web site, www.ehrs.upenn.edu/programs/bio/bird_wnv.html.

Got a question for Benny? You can ask Benny about benefits, worklife issues, University history or trivia, or other matters pertaining to life at Penn. Send it via e-mail to current@pobox.upenn.edu or via regular mail to the Current, 200 Sansom Place East, 3600 Chestnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6106. A Current coffee mug goes to those whose questions we publish.

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Originally published on October 30, 2003