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Preventing window strikes

Posted on Oct 14, 2014

As we hit mid-October we enter a period with southbound migration still in full swing, certain species irrupting (Blue Jays and Purple Finches this year!) or making nomadic movements (Pine Siskin or Northern Saw-whet Owl anyone?) and a lot of birds beginning to visit feeding stations. It is an exciting time as backyard bird watchers start to spot what mix of species will be staking claim to winter territory in their yards. Unfortunately this time of year can still be very active in a negative way: window strikes. Birds on the wing in migratory movements face a fatal fate many times more likely than other parts of the year from threats including starvation, predators and collisions with glass.

White-breasted Nuthatch window strike dead-005

White-breasted Nuthatch glass strike victim

This does not necessarily mean skyscrapers in major cities, either. Some low and seemingly innocuous windows in migratory corridors can still create a pile of dead birds. Birds fly into glass because they see the world reflected in it which thankfully means we can try several things at our homes to prevent fatalities. Here’s a personal list I have had success with and pass on whenever asked:

  • If you feed birds at your home try to keep the feeders either very far from the house or extremely close to it. The reason for keeping them far is obvious. Why close? Because if birds quickly launch away from your feeders they will not have much velocity if they fly only a couple of feet before hitting the glass. This often ends up with a little bump they instantly shake off and not a traumatic or fatal injury. Even then this rarely happens and in my experience the birds that frequently visit learn the structure is there.
  • Keep your screens in year-round on as many windows as you can. This not only breaks up the reflection but it provides a much more giving and soft safety net to fly into.
  • Don’t wash your windows or doors! Or at least not very often and don’t put in all that elbow grease. If you keep them squeaky clean with a bright shine you are going to end up making their reflections much more life-like and vivid, fooling and hurting the birds.
  • Plant shrubs or trees in front of large windows. If you select a native species perhaps it can be a source of food or a home to a nesting species while also blocking the view just a bit more and providing a spot for the birds to go (or flee to) rather than the imaginary glass world.
  • Try out some of the commercial window reflectors that can, at least, break up the pattern in the glass. I cannot speak to how well these various types work but I do know they are better than nothing!
  • If you can do absolutely nothing to the window itself or anything outside then try to keep the shade, blinds, or curtains drawn, or a large non-reflective object in your home in front of the window. This also somewhat breaks up the reflection. I have had very few instances of birds flying into covered on the interior windows or glass doors with the main door shut behind it.

There are certainly more options and some very creative ones, a number of which RTPI Board Member Bill Thompson III details here. If a few million people of the tens of millions of bird watchers took the time to try out some of these preventative measures and each of us saved even one or two birds a year…well, you can do the math! Please try to see what you can do at your home, workplace, school or elsewhere to prevent any bird window strike deaths because it really does make a tremendous difference and costs only a bit of time.

Scott Kruitbosch
Conservation & Outreach Coordinator