For the Birds Radio Program: Highway Massacre

Original Air Date: Oct. 13, 1995

“Why did the chicken cross the road?” “To show the raccoon it was possible.” 3:12

Audio missing


Last week I had to take my car in for its annual rust- and paint-protection inspection, so I headed out to Haines Road in Duluth. I had to leave the car there, and had four hours to kill, so I took a hike over to the mall. This was the same morning I’d counted over 10,000 birds at the Lakewood Pumping Station, and there were bazillions of warblers and other migrants all over town. There aren’t any sidewalks on Haines Road or the Miller Trunk Highway, and walking along the edge, I came upon the more tragic side of this heavy migration. Five dead Yellow-rumped Warblers lay on the roadside gravel, along with one Swamp Sparrow and a Sora.

Ironically, this was also the first day in my life that I myself had hit a bird—coming home from the pumping station, a warbler flitted out from the side right smack into my right headlight. I told myself that there was no way I could possibly have avoided it, since it really zipped in fast, but truth to tell, I usually take that road at 40 or 45 when there are birds around. That morning I was in a hurry and revved it up to 50 or 55. And now, the Miller Trunk Highway bore further evidence of too many people in a hurry.

Why are we always in such a rush to get places? I can remember driving over the speed limit one time just to get to the hospital for a mammogram—why the heck would anyone be in a hurry to go through such an uncomfortable procedure? We rush to meetings, rush to the store, I suppose some people even rush to relaxation and meditation sessions. We’re moving too fast to appreciate the rhythms of our own lives, and leaving a trail of dead creatures in our wake.

The dead birds along the Miller Trunk Highway were also victims of another human activity, destroying wetlands. The narrow island between the highway and the service road is filled with cattails. I can just imagine that little Sora’s thought process as it winged in, tired after a long night’s flight, and saw that long line of marsh vegetation in the darkness. It was impossible to tell from the squished carcass whether it was coming in for a landing or taking off after realizing that this wetland offered mighty slim pickins. Whichever, it was a costly mistake.

Lots of people think it’s okay to fill wetlands if you replace them someplace else, and the acreage of this narrow cattail ditch is probably still counted as quality wetland acreage by developers. When dwindling wetlands and highways intersect, we all lose. Whoever hit that poor Sora probably felt rotten even if they didn’t know what on earth it was as they raced on. The needless, pointless death of any living thing diminishes us all. Let’s slow down while there are still some birds to enjoy.