Should You Report that Dead Bird You’ve Found?

OK, you’ve found a dead bird — and you know that birds can carry the potentially deadly West Nile virus. 

Should you report it by calling the County of San Diego’s Vector Control — on our hotline (858-694-2888), email (vector@sdcounty.ca.gov), or our “Fight the Bite” mobile app?

Absolutely yes, if you suspect that the bird might have been killed by a disease like West Nile virus. You’ll be helping everybody. Finding disease early, tracking its presence and fighting it makes our neighborhoods safer and healthier.

But how can you tell if you should report this particular dead bird?

Here are some things to look for:

  • What kind of bird is it? In San Diego County, the birds most likely to die from West Nile virus include crows, ravens, jays, hawks, falcons and owls.
  • Does it look like the bird died from disease? Truth is, if the bird looks like it’s been injured, there’s a good chance it wasn’t killed by West Nile virus. (It might have been hit by a car or attacked by another animal.)
  • Does it look like the bird has been dead for a long time? If the bird’s corpse is older than 24 hours, there’s very little chance that it can be tested to determine if it had West Nile virus. So, how do you know if the bird’s been dead longer than 24 hours? Here are some things to look for: It shouldn’t be stiff; it shouldn’t smell bad; and it shouldn’t be covered by ants and flies.
  • The bird should be intact, meaning it’s not missing any body parts and its eyeballs should be in one piece. Again, missing body parts likely means the bird wasn’t killed by disease. The eyeballs? Disease testing requires having fluid from the bird’s eye!

If you find a dead bird and you decide to try to handle it — remember to do it safely. Don’t touch it with your bare hands; wear gloves or a shovel to pick it up; double-bag the dead bird carcass; and wash your hands with soap and warm water immediately after handling the bird. If you don’t want to handle it, don’t — call County Vector Control instead.

The big thing to remember is, if you have any doubt about whether the dead bird you found might have died from West Nile virus, report it.

For more information, go to the County Vector Control’s “Fight the Bite” West Nile virus Web page and its “Report Dead Birds” Web page. 


Gig Conaughton is a communications specialist with the County of San Diego Communications Office. Contact