Over 1 billion birds have died in the U.S. in just one year. It’s not due to a new sickness or invasive predator, but something so innocuous and prevalent that most people do not even realize the toll it is having on the bird population. Windows are responsible for these deaths, and birds are striking out worldwide.
Reflecting blue skies or forests, windows often entice birds to fly into them. Lit windows throw off the migratory patterns of nocturnal birds, causing them to crash into the glass. Other times, a territorial bird, like a humming bird, may mistake its own reflection for a rival and attempt to strike it, meeting only the hard, unforgiving glass instead. After a window strike, birds will often fall to the ground and appear dead or stunned for a few minutes, but then, seemingly recovered, will fly away. Unfortunately, these birds often die soon after their seemingly miraculous recovery due to bruising or internal bleeding, especially in the head. A study on bird strikes conducted over almost 45 years by Dr. Daniel Klem of Muhlenberg College reveals that “one out of every two strikes results in a fatality.” Klem adds, “Glass is an indiscriminate killer that takes the fit as well as the unfit of a species’ population.”
“One out of every two strikes is a fatality.”
Windows are not going anywhere any time soon. Thus, the question becomes how to find a balance of protecting birds while continuing to use glass as a building material. There are several ways to help. You can strike-proof your windows, report bird strikes online to a research database, and help collision victims.
Strike-Proofing Your Windows
As large picture windows or two windows meeting at a right angle are the worst culprits, make sure to move feeders and other attractants away from these windows at least 30 feet, or bring them in closer, to within 3 feet of the glass. Because window strikes are more fatal when the bird takes off from further away, gaining momentum before striking the glass, moving attractants in closer towards the house will not prevent the strikes, but will instead ensure that they are less fatal. Here at the University of Georgia, Costa Rica, we use decals on our windows to ensure the birds cannot see a reflection in the glass. These decals must be placed no more than a hands with apart to prevent strikes. Other methods include using one-way adhesive screens that increase the opaqueness of glass on the outside, using a taut, fine netting to repel strikes before they reach glass, and installing sun shades or awnings over windows to reduce the amount of light that reaches the window, thereby decreasing the chance of a vivid reflection. Click here for a selection of products compiled by birdwatchingdaily.com that you can use in your own home to prevent window collisions.
Reporting a Strike
Have you witnessed a bird strike a window? Maybe you came upon a stunned bird lying on the ground near a building. Reporting bird strikes can help prevent future deaths. The Fatal Light Awareness Program, FLAP, has a bird strike mapper where any user can report the location, time, state, and species of the bird, as well as include a photo. This map has become one of the leading databases used in ornithological research and conservation. After a strike is reported, FLAP suggests collision prevention techniques to buildings in the area. Though FLAP is based in Canada, you can report a collision anywhere in the world with the mapping tool.
Helping Collision Victims
If you find a stunned bird on the ground, first examine it for physical injuries. If you find none, attempt to have the bird perch on a branch, and leave it on its own to convalesce. If it cannot perch, place the bird in a dark place such as a shoe box or bag like that shown below at UGACR. Resist the temptation to handle the bird or give it food and water. The darkness will calm the bird as it recovers, which should occur within fifteen minutes unless seriously injured. After the fifteen minutes has passed, take the box or bag outside and let the bird fly away. Do not open the box inside to check on the bird or it may become trapped and a permanent resident in your house! If the bird does not fly away, continue to take it outside every fifteen minutes. If a couple of hours has passed and the bird has not recovered, take it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitator. You can use this directory to find the rehabber closest to you.
Together we can help prevent collisions, help victims, and keep our songbird population safe! We must ensure that birds no longer strike out, but instead score a home run. Check out this page on allaboutbirds.org, by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, and the FLAP website for further reading.