“Saw this starling struggling on the road in Butterworth, Malaysia, after the bird hit a passing car (above left). I got down and placed it on the grassy road edge (above right). Then I held it to check for any broken bones (below right). Everything seemed alright until suddenly it jerked and jerked and coughed (silent cough – not a sound was heard) out a Japanese cherry (below right). And a few more jerking before it stopped moving. It was dead (bottom). No sound was heard at all from this pitiful bird. Is there any reason why?” – Forest Ang, 6th June 2009
We sent Forest’s account to our consultant bird behaviourist, John Vickerman, and without fail, we received the account below.
“This juvenile Asian Glossy Starling (Aplonis panayensis) has become yet another unfortunate victim and statistic demonstrating that birds, especially young ones, and traffic in a modern society do not happily mix.
“However, there are some collisions between moving vehicles and birds where the survival of the bird can occur apparently against all the odds! Combined speed at the moment of collision is crucial, and to a degree, so too is the angle with which the bird collides with the vehicle. A high speed impact is likely to be instantly fatal; a narrow angle and glancing blow may permit the bird to escape relatively unharmed though broken wings often occur with this kind of impact leading to death at a later time usually as a result of predation.
“I witnessed some years ago in an urban city area where an adult Mute Swan (Cygnus olor) was flying along low above a river, and in attempting to cross a low road bridge but, unable by dint of its large size and lack of manoeuvrability, could not avoid flying into the side of a slow moving box van connecting with the side of it feet and body first with a resounding thud and falling to earth in an ignominious heap at the roadside bringing all traffic to a complete standstill! With others, I managed to shepherd the Swan off the road, down the river bank and onto the water whereupon the bird decided to continue its journey by paddle-power rather than flight and was, though no doubt slightly shaken by the experience, clearly unharmed. The low speed of the van no doubt was instrumental in not causing serious damage to this large and robust species.
However, small birds are much more fragile and I believe the manner in which this particular Starling expired is nothing out of the ordinary. The impact of the bird with the vehicle usually causes one or a number of several things to happen which individually, or severally, are fatal instantly or over a period of time after the impact.
“1. Physical damage e.g. broken wing, neck etc. 2. Internal damage causing organ rupture and/or internal bleeding, body trauma and with death shortly following.
“Body damage, if not instantly fatal, will create body trauma. Vomiting or regurgitation are typical effects of trauma in any bird or animal (humans included) and is a wholly natural process of nervous reaction to a situation where the body receives a severe shock, or experiences fear. In this instance, the cherry was regurgitated since digestive processes had clearly not commenced. From the photographs, clearly the neck is not broken, but I would suggest internal injuries were too much for the bird to bear.
“The lack of any communication calls is again indicative of trauma whereas a healthy bird or animal usually calls with alarm, struggles, pecks or bites. Sickness, including body trauma, generally is accompanied by listlessness and silence.
“As with all accidents, degree of damage and resulting trauma is crucial. I have seen small finches take two hours to recover from colliding with house windows and thus live to see another day. But not all are as lucky, and moving vehicles add to the odds being stacked against survival.
“I hope this helps with giving Forest Ang an idea of what may have happened in this unfortunate but very common collision scenario.”