Preventing Birds from Hitting Windows

Preventing Birds from Hitting Windows

We’ve had two birds die from hitting windows over the last two weeks. It used to happen in our last house, which  featured big picture windows facing a canyon. But now I think the native plant and wildlife friendly habitat we’ve nurtured is bringing more birds to our Redlands CA house.

Here are some suggestions from several bird organizations: the Audubon Society, the American Bird Conservancy and the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, along with a local bird expert.

Our reflective windows are bad for flying birds

Our reflective windows are bad for flying birds

But first, what’s the problem: Windows that are most reflective are the most hazardous, even those that are small since many birds fly into small spaces such as tree cavities or between branches. According to the American Bird Conservancy, collisions happen more frequently during spring and fall migration periods or when resident birds fledge young or leave territories to seek food in winter. One study showed that whether or not people fed birds was a main factor — in other words, we may unwittingly contribute to the problem.

Solutions: (beginning with ones that are effective and don’t cost anything.)

  • Relocate feeders, birdbaths and other attractants. One thing we changed in our old house was relocating our bird feeders. Bird strikes are more likely to be fatal when birds take off from a distance and are flying at top speed when they hit. Consider moving feeder and birdbaths within 2-3 feet of your window – so they can’t get enough speed to hurt themselves, or 15 or more feet away from windows.
  • Avoid visual paths to sky and greenery. A window on the opposite side of your picture window may give the illusion of an open path. Close some curtains or blinds, or a door if applicable, to lessen this ‘see through effect’ or keep the slats only half open. “If there is a particular time of day that bird strikes happen, then just shut the blinds or curtains during that time,” says Kurt Leuschner, a bird expert and natural resources professor at College of the Desert in Palm Desert. This can be very effective. Birds kept hitting the 2nd floor office windows of my husband’s workplace. Once they started closing the blinds halfway during the workday, the issue stopped.
  • Hang moving things in front of windows. Leuschner says his most effective solution is to hang moving things in front of the window: wind chimes, mobiles, flags and banners, anything that moves or glints in the sun. even old CD’s hanging from fishing line.
  • Decals, stickers or other objects: Put decals, stickers, sun catchers, vertical tape strips, or other objects on the outside surface of windows. These need to be put on clean windows and spaced close together (every three feet for the  ultraviolet decals.) We bought hawk silhouette stickers in the past but they are supposedly no more useful than others. Some stickers are ultraviolet — these appear transparent to our eyes but are visible to birds. We just ordered ultraviolet decals from Windowalert.com. (update in August: these seemed to work – no more hits….)Or better yet, support local businesses by visiting a nearby bird specialty store. You can also mark glass with soap or permanent paint, or American Bird Conservancy developed an ABC bird tape for purchase.

    Fountain locations can impact window collisions too

    Fountain locations can impact window collisions too

  • Install external shutters (also great energy savers) and keep them closed when you’re not in the room or taking advantage of the light or view. Or, install external sunshades or awnings.
  • Use netting or window screening. Cover the glass outside with window screening or netting at least 2-3 inches from the glass, taut enough to bounce birds off before they can hit the glass. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology installed crop netting—the kind used to keep birds away from fruit trees—in front of a large picture window next to a garden where birds fed. The result was no more dead and injured birds. They recommend small-mesh netting, (5/8” or 1.6 cm in diameter) so birds won’t get their heads or bodies entangled but will bounce off unharmed. You can mount the netting on a frame, such as a storm-window frame.
  • Cover glass with a one-way transparent film, which permits people on the inside to see out, but makes the window appear opaque on the outside. See the Fatal Light Awareness Program website for more info. Make sure these products are mounted on the outside of the glass.
  • When putting in new windows, consider double-hung windows, which have the screen on the outside of the glass. Also, ask your contractor to construct the window so the glass angles downward and doesn’t reflect sky and trees. Note that this may void the window’s warranty.

When you find a stunned but alive bird

Usually, after making sure the bird was in a safe spot, away from cats and other predators, many times we  return a half hour and the bird had recovered and flown off. For yesterday’s female house finch, my husband placed it upright on a cloth in a large tupperware and put it on a heating vent, with the lid askew. After four hours, we were able to release it. Unfortunately, though, we found it dead this morning, so it must have had internal injuries.

For more info:

Fatal Life Awareness Program

American Bird Conservancy’s ABC tape

Cornell Lab of Ornithology How to Avoid Window Collisions

National Audubon Society’s Minimizing Window Collisions

For decal purchases: Wild Birds Unlimited or Window Alerts

About Linda Richards

My goal is to educate about the science of nature in layperson speak, through my writing, science and education background. I grew up in the Chicago area, loved living in Minneapolis before gravitating to the West, which is now home.

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