How Many Songbirds Didn’t Have to Die?

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How Many Songbirds Didn’t Have to Die?

2020-02-20T23:23:28+00:00March 4th, 2013|Birds, Ethics, Hunting|7 Comments

** Note: There is no graphic visual content in this post. The subject matter, is, however disheartening for anyone who cares about birds.

Bushtit on Vertical Branch

How many? That’s a legitimate question. I don’t know and I’d like to — but there’s no verifiable nor practical way to find out.

It’s an issue that came up for me a couple of years ago when I ran across dozens of bird-shooting videos on YouTube. The titles are often something like “Killing blackbirds with an air rifle” or “Pellet gun vs. birds.” I will not link out to any of these videos, but they’re not hard to find if you have the stomach for it.

In many cases, these are young boys shooting birds randomly, irrespective of species. Sometimes they are adults, but it seems the adults are at least more cognizant of species identification, and if so, will limit their “target” practice to “non-native” birds. I watched, heartsick enough, then noticed that dozens of videos also included shootings of wrens, robins, various blackbirds, and some native sparrow species. I left comments below the videos, on the illegality of their acts, and I reported the videos to YouTube for violation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act. As might be expected, there were two outcomes:

  1. Grammatically-challenged and vitriolic responses from the video shooters.
  2. No response from You Tube, nor any removal of flagged videos.

When I went looking for information on songbird fatalities and backyard guns, there are no statistics as far as I could find. But I did come upon this post from The Digiscoper entitled They Did Not Need to Die. There, Mike detailed the very same problem I was seeing: YouTube videos of illegal songbird shootings. Mike went the extra mile and contacted the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service himself, and this was the reply:

“Two of the three, and possibly all three of these videos show only evidence of children shooting birds. The Federal government does not prosecute juveniles, except for the most heinous of crimes. Lot’s of these types videos floating around the web and not enough agents. Took us several months and hundreds of investigative hours (including numerous interrogations and lab work) to catch the whooping crane shooter, only to discover DOJ would not prosecute the juvenile shooter (he was 17). Some of our agents do pursue these types of investigations when time allows.”

~ From the post They Did Not Need to Die

Mike went on to list (and link to) some of the offending videos. I checked today, and although some of those videos have, indeed, been removed, others remain posted on YouTube, depicting dead robins and sapsuckers, among others.

Growing up, I think many of us knew kids who shot animals with BB guns. Some of us were those kids. I wasn’t, but I count among my friends, a few people who grew up shooting, and who are permanently repentant for the birds they needlessly shot for fun. The idea that it’s normal in our culture to gift air rifles or pellet guns to children, most of whom cannot discriminate between species, defies sensibility. Of course that broaches the hairy edge of gun control, and our current national debate is hot enough on assault weapons. Still, sending a 10-year-old out popping birds unsupervised, is a recipe for indiscriminate target shooting which is bad enough, coupled with gross misidentification and a limited ethical framework.

The reason I revisited this unpleasant topic today, was because of an article I read at the stewartfalcon website It’s run by Glenn Stewart, director of the Santa Cruz Predatory Research Group which monitors the Peregrine Falcons nesting around the Bay Area. He is rehabbing a Peregrine that was shot by a pellet gun at SFO, and he discovered (through a local news team) that airport safety officers employ pellet guns and shotguns to shoot birds. I did a bit of rooting around, to see if I could make any additional headway on the songbird-pellet-gun issue, and bumped up against the YouTube phenomenon again. Today, I saw a video of either a thrasher or a thrush being shot, along with other videos of protected blackbirds and grackles.

I don’t know if there’s any recourse other than education, given the legal parameters within which U.S. Fish and Wildlife operates. It’s obviously incumbent upon the adults in these children’s lives, to direct them in legal and ethical practices. That, of course, is not going to happen. So, in the absence of viable enforcement, I’m not sure how to wrap my head around it in a proactive and forward-thinking way except, perhaps, to formulate an educational program that could potentially reach those kids with conscience pangs — the kids who have enough of a heart, the ones who might later feel remorse over, as Mike wrote, the birds that did not need to die.


  1. Mia McPherson March 4, 2013 at 11:46 am - Reply


    I wasn’t aware of those videos and I won’t bother to try to find them because I know it will simply make me heartsick then angry. You and Mike are correct, those birds don’t need to die. I don’t know how to tackle the issue if Fish and Wildlife Services don’t investigate these crimes with any regularity and it seems to me that the more people who get away with it them more it will happen.

    How to reach those who need education is the crux of the matter because they will most likely not be the people reading this blog or any others that mention this issue. One way I think the issue could be broached is through educational programs in elementary schools but they are already taxed enough by the required studies they must teach.

    • ingrid March 4, 2013 at 8:25 pm - Reply

      Mia, I think you’re right … and as with all such efforts, because of financial scarcity, it would likely have to come from groups unaffiliated with the schools who might have the resources. It’s something I’ll put on the back burner and see if ideas evolve when I encounter like-minded wildlife people. I believe education is at the crux of many wildlife problems. Wildlife hospitals, for instance, are changing minds when they have “wildlife solutions” departments which allow for non-lethal means to deal with human-wildlife conflicts. Even on a small scale, a sign posted at last year’s Osprey nest in our neighborhood — describing the nest and the Osprey’s migratory journey — seemed to have the effect of generating more respect for the birds. It’s probably obvious I’m a believer in cautionary or instructional signs when it comes to spaces we share with wildlife. 🙂

  2. Ron Dudley March 5, 2013 at 4:37 am - Reply

    “Growing up, I think many of us knew kids who shot animals with BB guns”.

    I was raised on a remote Montana farm in the 1950’s and I was one of those kids, Ingrid. I think nearly all of my victims were house sparrows but I didn’t discriminate. And to say that I’m “permanently repentant” is an understatement.

    I agree that education is the key to positive change. I tried to make a difference (and atone for my sins) during my 33 years as a teacher and I believe I succeeded to some degree. But there’s so much more that needs to be done. Perhaps our most effective tools at this stage are our blogs. Let’s keep plugging away…

    • ingrid March 5, 2013 at 9:33 am - Reply

      Ron, thank you for every aspect of this comment … for sharing your experience and for encouraging what probably is the best solution. One of my dearest friends grew up similarly, on a commercial family farm, and he would tell you his feelings emulate yours. I have another friend who, to this day, gets teary-eyed thinking of his own exploits.

      I was biologically-minded as a child, roaming my environment to study dew drops and collect natural artifacts. I loved animals, but I did some things out of ignorance that I deeply regret and still feel to this day … like trying to raise tadpoles (“trying” being the operative term), or not having the proper knowledge to rehabilitate a baby crow (he died because of our ignorance). I wrote about him in a blog post a couple of years ago. His memory was instrumental in me taking up wildlife training. I feel it viscerally when I think of those incidents, and I suspect I’ll carry them to my last days. I’ve met plenty of people who have no regrets and who feel those early experiences formed them as outdoors people. So, it seems that how one owns and processes those experiences largely determines later accountability and action.

      I suppose from one standpoint, we could view wildlife education as having human benefits beyond helping wildlife. You may be helping a young person who then won’t later have to bear the consequences of acts they come to regret. For those who don’t have those emotional pangs, perhaps educating on legality and ethics is the only way in.

  3. M. Firpi March 5, 2013 at 9:43 pm - Reply

    I have some memories of cruelty in my childhood. Me and my sister stabbed some fish (we were like 4-6 year olds), I guess out of the curiosity, or maybe we had intentions of emulating surgeons that were performing surgeries with different knives and procedures. At that time the TV series “Medical Center” was going on, with Chad Everett. I’m convinced me and my sister were trying to emulate the surgeons. TV, and all types of media have an enormous influence on children. They all have role models children look up to. Cowboy western films were also going strong when I was growing up. Now the main role models are seen mostly in modern video games and always have the “gunman” as the leading figure. No wonder it’s a vicious cycle that seems to have hit men the hardest. I will have to get into the 2nd amendment. The libertinage with guns in the U.S. has well gone beyond precedences ever seen before. Japan is also big on producing military video games and cartoons for kids. I’m totally against the second amendment of the U.S.. For me it’s libertinage, it means guns for everyone alike. Guns, if anything (and I don’t support them), should be for the military and intelligence personnel, and total control of them should be imposed. Yes, it goes against the 2nd amendment, but it’s the result of what we’re getting now. It’s called a “libertinage”. Only the intelligence militia and the police force who have undergone proper training should bear guns. This is IMOHO.

    • ingrid March 6, 2013 at 8:15 pm - Reply

      Maria, I was of the same ilk but, I’m lucky in that I only had my stuffed animals to operate on. I think it was Marcus Welby who inspired me … one of the few American shows we got to see in Amsterdam (along with Star Trek and Alias Smith & Jones). I operated on at least one stuffed bear and decided that he was cured after I removed the odd-colored bits of stuffing from his chest.

      The gun control defense in the States goes beyond what I can even reasonably argue against. Recently, Thom Hartmann (liberal radio host) hosted a discussion about the relative aspects of the 2nd … as in, which weapons were available at the time of the Amendment’s writing and so forth. It’s beyond nuanced and complex. It’s out of control, as I see it.

  4. Bea Elliott March 6, 2013 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    I have nothing to add here except to say a mixed-emotion kind of appreciation for this post… I just never realized the complexity of prosecuting kids. Although I do think the parents ought to be held responsible – But of course these are “only” animal-victims… Who’s really going to pursue justice?

    The only other time I really thought about kids shooting birds was this old classic from Andy Griffin… For decades its poignant lesson stayed with me. Amid all the senseless deaths perhaps it will offer you a moment of comfort as well. xox

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