I’ll never forget the sunny day at work I discovered bits of feathers and avian debris on the edge of a sidewalk which ultimately led me to the body of a dead bird in the bushes. What happened here? I went inside and asked the security guard if she knew what had caused this violent scene. I thought maybe it had been attacked by another animal.
“Oh yes,” she said, “it flew into the window.” She had moved the body to the bushes afterwards in hopes it might make it. It didn’t. After a lengthy discussion, I found out it happens a lot more often than you might think. She found bodies or witnessed collisions on a fairly regular basis. A pair of hummingbirds and a family of kingfishers had died the year before. I was distressed by this, and so was she.
I soon realised how common this problem actually is. An estimated 100 million to 1 billion birds die from hitting windows each year in the United States alone. Another study determined window strikes caused more bird deaths each year than cats! Others estimate 100 million to 1 billion bird deaths per year attributed to window strikes while cats were responsible for up to 500 million deaths per year. A study by Environment Canada found cats caused more bird deaths than window strikes each year in Canada (at least 100 million deaths per year by cats versus 16-42 million deaths per year by window strikes).
There is clearly still room for debate on the leading anthropogenic cause of bird deaths, but window strikes are a top contender regardless. Just imagine how difficult it must be to get accurate statistics on either cause.
Why are windows a problem for birds?
Glass is an issue for birds because they cannot see it. It is invisible to them. The worst cases are those where windows are situated directly opposite windows on the other side, creating what appears to be a clear line of sight through to the outdoors. To a bird, it simply looks like a continuation of their habitat. An additional problem is leaving lights on inside at night because so many bird migrate by night and can become easily confused or even trapped by light reflecting off windows within buildings.
What can you do at home to reduce bird-window impacts?
Don’t place houseplants right against the window.
Place your bird feeders either: right up against the window OR no more than 1m (3ft) away from the window.
Put up curtains or shades to break up the transparency.
Put up stickers or decals on the windows. To be effective, they must be no less than 5x5cm (2x2in) apart.
Hang colourful strings, ribbons or streamers across your window. Again, these must be no less than 5cm (2in) apart.
Use soap or washable marker on the outside of your window to create a design or whitewash your windows.
A single hawk silhouette sticker does NOTHING to prevent bird strikes. This is a very common misconception.
What about commercial buildings in my community?
There are a number of ways for commercial buildings to reduce bird-window impacts. They range from putting up dotted adhesive, to screening on the outside of windows to using special UV glass. In Canada, it is actually against the Species At Risk Law to inadvertently kill or injure birds from the reflective light through building windows.
A recent study from Duke University of their own campus at Durham found that bird collisions were highest at buildings with the greatest glass area except the building with patterned, or fritted, glass. They also found a higher incidence of collision at buildings with greater forested area in the vicinity. These findings are important in telling us what we can do to reduce bird-window collisions. Migratory birds were also more susceptible to window collisions: 76% of the dead window-strike birds found were migratory species.
If you notice bird impacts at your workplace or around your city, or are concerned, get involved and find out what you can do to help. Talk to a building or facilities manager about options, like those presented by FLAP. Use social media to spread the word. Many birds that end up in wildlife rehab are there because of window strikes. The best way to solve the problem is to prevent it.
April 12 is the Canadian Wildlife Federation and FLAP Canada’s Bird Impact Reduction Day. Don’t forget about this silent killer! Ask your office buildings and workplaces to turn the lights off at night, turn the lights off in your home or close your blinds or curtains, move your houseplants away from windows and tell people about this problem to raise awareness. Donate to FLAP or volunteer. They are an amazing resource on this issue.
What do I do if a bird flies into my window?
Now that I’ve learned all this, I know what to do when the misfortune of a bird-window strike does happen. The best thing to do is put the bird in a small cardboard box (with a rolled up paper towel to perch on) with airholes and let it recover.
If the bird does recover, you’ll hear it moving and fluttering about in the box, then its safe to let it out. If it doesn’t its best to take it to the professionals are your nearest wildlife rehab centre.
If you don’t know where that is, I encourage you to find out. Here is a list of wildlife rehab centers in the United Sates and abroad though it is likely not exhaustive!