Bird­ing by Bird

Glass strikes fell hun­dreds of mil­lion of birds every year in North Amer­ica alone. Here’s what you can do to stop the car­nage at home

Canadian Wildlife - - FEATURES - By David Bird

Glass strikes fell mil­lions of birds every year in North Amer­ica alone. Here’s what you can do to stop the car­nage at home

To all bird lovers, it is a sick­en­ing sound — a loud thump on a win­dow pane, some­times leav­ing be­hind a smear or even a tiny feather. Ev­i­dence of another win­dow strike. Every year, we lose up to 42 mil­lion birds in Canada and be­tween 100 mil­lion and a bil­lion birds in the United States to col­li­sions with this un­seen en­emy, ac­cord­ing to Daniel Klem, a pro­fes­sor of bi­ol­ogy at Muh­len­berg Col­lege in Penn­syl­va­nia and widely re­garded as the world’s ex­pert on win­dow strikes by birds. In re­cent years, Klem has doc­u­mented that 28 per cent of all 917 North Amer­i­can bird species fall vic­tim to win­dow strikes.

De­spite its re­mark­able so­phis­ti­ca­tion, the avian eye is sim­ply not ca­pa­ble of de­tect­ing the dif­fer­ence be­tween un­ob­structed air space and clear win­dows. Win­dows are an in­dis­crim­i­nate killer of birds that are fit and un­fit, com­mon and rare, big and small, male and fe­male, and young and old. Vic­tims are of­ten star­tled by loud noises, pass­ing cars or the ar­rival of a larger bird at the feeder. Oth­ers are in­volved in tail chases with their own kind or es­cap­ing the talons of hawks. Some are killed in­stantly; oth­ers are knocked un­con­scious and die later ei­ther from their in­juries or from scav­engers. Some re­cover and fly off weakly, the lucky ones, shaken but un­af­fected. Don’t as­sume that if a bird re­cov­ers in your hand and is able to fly off, it is going to be okay. Many are not.

Klem has de­ter­mined that birds are par­tic­u­larly vul­ner­a­ble to large (two square me­tres and big­ger), clear and re­flec­tive win­dows at ground level or at heights above three me­tres. Pre­vail­ing wis­dom notwith­stand­ing, it doesn’t mat­ter whether the win­dows face north or south dur­ing mi­gra­tion times. Es­pe­cially lethal are glass cor­ri­dors, stair­ways or rooms that cre­ate the il­lu­sion of clear pas­sage. Thanks to the ef­forts of com­mit­ted vol­un­teers, in re­cent decades, build­ing own­ers, prop­erty man­agers, ar­chi­tects, and land­scape plan­ners have be­come more aware of the prob­lem. They are tak­ing the nec­es­sary steps to min­i­mize win­dow strikes in down­town cityscapes by us­ing spe­cial tex­tured glass, avoid­ing mir­rored win­dows and turn­ing off lights that draw mi­grat­ing birds to their death at night. But what can you do to min­i­mize bird col­li­sions around your house, apart­ment or cot­tage?

First, you don’t have to shut down a back­yard feeder oper­a­tion to stop birds from hit­ting your win­dows, but do pay at­ten­tion to where you put them. Ei­ther place your feed­ers within a third of a me­tre of any win­dows to min­i­mize any mo­men­tum a bird might gain if star­tled or, con­versely, place feed­ers as far away as pos­si­ble from dan­ger­ous win­dows.

As for de­ter­rents, Klem says to for­get about us­ing wind chimes, blink­ing lights, hang­ing plants, large eye pat­terns, fal­con sil­hou­ettes or owl de­coys. They don’t gen­er­ally work.

On the other hand, cov­er­ing win­dows with cloth or adding sil­ver My­lar strips five to 10 cen­time­tres apart on or near the glass sur­face works well. Another sim­ple and ef­fec­tive so­lu­tion is to keep white cloth drapes or sheer cur­tains closed dur­ing day­light hours. There are also more per­ma­nent so­lu­tions for “prob­lem” win­dows: some home­own­ers in­stall black plas­tic gar­den-pro­tec­tion net­ting mounted on frames away from the win­dow; another re­cent in­no­va­tion is adding pat­terned sheets of ad­he­sive tape (avail­able from col­lidescape.org).

Let’s re­move the pain from our win­dow panes for our feathered friends.

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