By Jenny Holt
Have you ever walked into a window not realizing it is there? If not, no doubt you’ve seen the funny videos on YouTube or on a TV program. To see a person walk into a window can be quite amusing, but that is harmless compared to birds hitting windows, often at great speeds.
For us, it’s a case of not paying attention or of the window being so clean that it is almost invisible. However, for birds on the outside trying to get in even a clean window presents a danger because they can seem worse than invisible. This is because they can reflect the nature outside, making it appear to be a continuation of the garden, sky, woodland and so on, so the bird flies in at full speed not realizing they are about to hit glass.
The Surprising Damage Windows Do to Bird Populations
Every year in the United States up to 1,000,000,000 birds die from flying into windows. An untold number, the vast majority in fact, are lucky enough to be merely stunned by the impact, recover, and fly off moments later. Even if not killed outright by the impact, many birds later perish from internal damage, bleeding, and brain damage.
It is thought that window collisions are adding to grave concerns over general bird population numbers which are on the decline. This is especially true of some species of birds which are both in great decline and prone to accidental window strikes. These include birds such as the Wood Thrush, Painted Bunting, Warbler, Kentucky Warbler, and the Worm-eating Warbler among others. It might not be a surprise to learn that big cities, especially those with high rises and skyscrapers are the most dangerous for birds. As light reflects off the glass, it is easy for them to mirror the sky and give the appearance of a continuum. In fact, 56% of all window strike bird deaths happen with buildings over 11 storeys high. To put this in context, skyscrapers of this height only make up 1% of buildings in the United States.
How to Make Your Windows Visible to Birds
Some cities such as New York and Toronto have instigated legislation designed to reduce bird strikes on skyscrapers and other buildings. The aim is to prevent windows from being lit in such a way as to make them seem like continuations of the sky. These and other cities such as Chicago, have also brought in new bird friendly construction and development guidelines to ensure new windows and structures factor in bird friendly windows.
There are a range of possibilities for improving your home or business property to reduce the chances of window strikes. These range from types of glass to use to some small hints and tips for people to do at home. First, let’s look at glass types:
- Angled Glass: If glass is installed at a 20 degree downward facing angle, they will not reflect the sky or trees.
- Fritted Glass: These contain closely spaced dots of opaque glass fused onto the glass’ outer surface. Humans can still see through them, but birds notice the dots and therefore see the glass.
- Etched or Sandblasted Glass: Similar principle to above in the fact it disrupts the glass’ reflection enough to ward off birds from flying in that direction. Best used for smaller panes of glass.
- UV-reflective Glass: Still transparent to humans, but this kind of glass is also visible to birds and lets them know not to go in that direction.
It is also possible to make some changes to the outside of windows. Organizations such as the Humane Society suggest ideas such as:
- Decals and wind chimes
- External shutters like Venetian blinds
- Tape Strips
- Year-round bug screens
- External shades and awnings
- Whitewashing unused windows
Also consider these ideas at home:
Changing your home interior: Consider having vertical blinds with them usually closed or halfway closed or use shades and curtains. At night, when the lights are on, either have the curtains closed or the blinds closed.
Your garden layout: if you have bird feeders, why not move the away from the windows so they are at least 30 feet from the house or within 3 feet so a bird launching themselves off the feeder and into the window will not hurt themselves too much. Same rules apply for bird baths.
Bird Safe Cleaning
Naturally, it is good to have clean windows and clean areas where birds might come into contact. As previously discussed on this site, it is important to use safe and natural cleaning products. When cleaning external areas instead of using chemicals like bleach and detergents or antibacterial sprays linked to bird infertility and deformities, consider using vinegar or lemon juice mixed with water. Grapefruit seed extract is a relatively new and effective alternative to disinfectants too.
For cleaning windows, if you are not hiring a professional window cleaning service, consider using 1 cup of white vinegar mixed with 1 gallon of water then apply the mixture using a spray or linen cloth. Cleaning will make your windows easier to see through but if fixes such as those suggested above are not considered, then this can make a window strike more likely. These tips, however, are also if you keep birds indoors and do not want to affect their health by using chemical cleaners.
How to Care for a Bird who has Flown into a Window If a bird does strike your window at home or at your place of work, but is still alive when it falls to the ground, you can take some steps to looking after them. The bird will naturally be dazed and may have suffered internal as well as external injuries. If it is carrying its wings properly and is able to perch on a branch or fence properly, then it will most likely be ok and be able to sort itself out after a few minutes. At this time, just make sure no cats get to it.
On the other hand, if you do find noticeable injuries or the bird is not capable of perching under its own steam, then place it carefully into a dark container, like a box. Some peace and quiet will help the bird relax a little or will at least reduce stress. If there are broken parts like wings or legs, the bird will need surgery within an hour if it is so survive so you will need to take it to your local veterinarian hospital or a rehabilitator. Do not handle the bird or try to help it yourself – migratory birds are protected species and only professionals have the training and permits to do this. However, it is ok to open the box every 15 minutes or so. If the bird flies off, then it is likely to be ok.