How to prevent birds from striking windows

Fatal window strikes second only to cat kills

It’s not easy being a bird.

Nature doesn’t make it easy for them. Every day in our backyard gardens, birds are fighting for survival either by trying to find food, water, a safe place to roost overnight, freezing temperatures, outdoor cats, predators on the ground and in the air.

They don’t need the massive windows of office towers, condos and, of course, our own homes, adding to their problems. We may not be able to do too much about office towers and apartment buildings, but we can do a few simple things to ensure our homes are not part of the problem.

One American report estimated that every year about 900 million birds could die from window collisions in the United States alone. The Oklahoma State University report states that most of those deaths come not from bird strikes of skyscrapers but from collisions with small buildings from four to 11-storeys high. They account for approximately 56 per cent of the deaths. Ok, still not a lot we can do as woodland gardeners to reduce this carnage either.

But, and here is the key to take away, residences that are one- to three-storeys high will make up around 44 per cent of the deaths. Skyscrapers account for less than 1 per cent of the bird deaths.

This commercially available window sticker is one of many that cover our back windows to prevent bird strikes.

This commercially available window sticker is one of many that cover our back windows to prevent bird strikes.

What you can do to prevent window-collision deaths

1) Ensure windows have a deterrent, either commercially or homemade, so birds recognize them as obstacles.

2) Place bird feeders and water sources far enough away that a threat, for example a hawk attack at the feeder, will not result in a frantic escape that ends in a window strike.

3) Place natural cover close to bird feeders and bird baths so that frantic birds can escape easily and safely into a bush, tree or woodpile.

4) If you want a bird feeder or bath close to a window so you can watch the birds, be sure to place them close enough to the window that the birds cannot build up speed in their flight before hitting the window. Hummingbird feeders 6-12 inches from a window is a good example. It would help to have a commercial sticker on the window next to the feeder so the birds are aware of the obstacle.

5) A simple homemade solution is to hang streamers or string in front of your windows to break up the view and make the birds aware of an obstacle.

6) Consider purchasing window stickers as gifts for your neighbours, friends and family to put on their windows to protect backyard birds in their yards. The self adhesive stickers are simple to apply and remove if necessary. They are aesthetically pleasant to look at and can certainly help reduce bird strikes and, in doing so, save lives.

These figures should not come as a surprise to homeowners, especially those who feed and provide water for our backyard birds. With the increased number of birds attracted to your yard, the chances of window strikes increase proportionally.

The report goes on to say that window strikes at our homes may kill only a few birds each year, but with about 15.1 million low-rise buildings and 123 million residences, the death tallies add up very quickly compared to deaths caused by about 21,000 skyscrapers in the United States.

Canadian organization fighting for the protection and safety of birds

Before Canadians pat themselves on the back, consider that more than 25 million migratory birds are killed here because of window collisions. In fact, FLAP (Fatal Light Awareness Program) Canada is a Canadian organization with the sole mission to inform and educate people to take actions that keep birds safe from daytime and nighttime bird-building collisions in homes, in their workplaces and other structures.

FLAP points out that 25 million deaths is just a fraction of fatalities when “factoring in bird deaths by cats, agriculture, climate change, pollution, invasive species and the erosion of habitat due to mass urbanization. Cats in Canada alone kill up to 200 million birds annually.

At present, the Toronto-based organization is asking concerned resident to sign a petition to update Ontario’s Building Code to try to help save birds.

An October, 2020 press release states: ““For bird populations to be sustained, the design of buildings in Ontario cannot continue to ignore the ecological consequences of untreated plate glass killing birds….

“Currently in Ontario there are several municipalities with their own requirements or guidelines to encourage bird-friendly design in all new mid-to high-rise buildings. However, this piecemeal approach to conserving birds does not reach far enough across Ontario. As best management practices and the commercial market for bird collision prevention technologies continue to evolve, it would be necessary for collision mitigation strategies reaching architects and municipal planners across Ontario to be consistent with the CSA's standard. A province-wide requirement for bird-friendly building design through the Building Code is imperative.”

The Canadian organization goes on to explain that the “risk of bird collisions is highest at single-family dwellings, simply because they are the most numerous types of building. “ They are calling for new residential standards to ensure bird-friendly design legislation includes new homes. “Developers must be instructed by the province to commit to designing all new structures containing plate glass to comply with best practices under the CSA standard in order to minimize the risk of bird collisions.”

Obviously, birds on long-haul migrations at night fall victims to the disorientation from artificial lights in highrises, despite a greater effort to darken more of these large structures at night.

The American team reports that certain birds are more at risk than others listing Anna’s and ruby-throated hummingbirds, Black-throated blue warblers, Townsend’s solitaires and golden-winged warblers topped the risk list of migratory birds.

In our own gardens, it is more likely that the backyard feeder birds are most likely to strike windows, especially young birds who fly about with more wild abandon than the adults.

It’s important that we do all we can to ensure the safety of these birds in our own yards. Commercially available stickers that are placed on our windows are an excellent first step to help our feathered friends. We should ensure they are on any window that poses a threat to birds. But here is an idea, what if every bird lover provided stickers for one or two of their friends so they could use them on their windows.

Imagine how many birds could be saved.

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Vic MacBournie

Vic MacBournie is a former journalist and author/owner of Ferns & Feathers. He writes about his woodland wildlife garden that he has created over the past 25 years and shares his photography with readers.

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