April 29, 2014
Protecting birds from death by collision with windows
By PAT GARBER
lovers had an exciting winter at Ocracoke this year. Not only were we
gifted with the presence of snowy owls wintering far south of their
typical range, but we also saw unusually high numbers of cedar waxwings
migrate through the village.
Dressed in black masks, with
silky brown and yellow plumage and capped with perky crests, they
descended upon the berries offered up by our native trees.
They seemed to perform choreographed ballets as they soared through the
sky, and their cheery forms, perched on the branches of cedar and wax
myrtle trees, resembled ornaments on a well-decked-out Christmas
Sadly, however, many of these delightful birds met
untimely deaths here. Some were hit by cars, others killed by cats, a
few shot illegally by budding young hunters with BB guns. Most,
however, died as a result of collisions with the windows in our
This was not unusual. Collisions with human
structures are believed to be the main cause of death for passerines,
or song birds, second only to loss of habitat.
It is estimated
that somewhere between 300 million and a billion birds die each year in
this country due to collisions with man-made structures. While cell
towers and windmills take a heavy toll, the biggest threat is glass
windows. Most of the deaths occur during spring and fall migrations, as
was the case this spring with the cedar waxwings, and most of the
victims are song birds.
All kinds of birds are liable to fly into windows, however, at all times of the year.
“Birds do not perceive conventionally formulated glass as a solid barrier,” according to the American Bird Conservancy.
other words, they are not able to detect glass as an obstacle, and
reflections of trees or other natural landscapes in our windows often
entice them to fly into the glass. Many birds migrate at night, and
they are attracted to and distracted by outdoor lights and lights
inside of buildings, leading to collision deaths. Many die
instantaneously, and even those which fly away may die later as a
result of the injury.
There are ways to prevent these
small but heart-breaking tragedies, and there are a number of
organizations devoted to letting people know about these ways. The
American Bird Conservancy oversees a “Bird Collision Campaign,”
dedicated to educating people on how to make the windows in their homes
and businesses bird-safe. The Canadian organization “Fatal Light
Awareness Program” (FLAP) focuses on preventing collisions caused by
unnatural lights. The company Feather Friendly Technologies has been
working with bird experts for more than 10 years to create marketable
As an incentive to builders, the U.S. Green
Building Council offers “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design”
(LEED) guidelines and credits for those who build with bird-friendly
materials and designs.
City and state governments are also
getting involved in trying to save our feathered friends from death by
collision. Such cities as Portland, San Francisco, New York,
Chicago and Toronto, as well as the state of Minnesota, are
establishing bird-friendly building guidelines, and seven cities have
signed a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services “Urban Bird Treaty” designed
to protect songbirds. A federal bill, introduced in the House in 2011
and again in 2013, died in committee, but it is hoped will eventually
Any bird lover who has heard the disturbing thud of a
songbird hitting a window and discovered its lifeless body underneath,
must surely want to prevent it happening again. Listed below are a
number of ways this can be done.
Some things that do not work, according to FLAP, include silhouettes of hawks, plastic owls, and single window decals.
following ideas will work, if implemented properly. Remember to follow
the important 2- to 4-inch rule in all of the applications. Dots,
stripes, ribbons, decals or other deterrents must be no more than 2
inches apart horizontally or 4 inches apart vertically. Also,
remember that all applications must be placed on the outside of
windows, even window films, which are designed to go on inside glass.
Replace present glass with bird-friendly glass, which is textured or
appears opaque from the outside. Orilux, described below, works
well. Or apply a coating, such as Feather Friendly Retrofit Solution,
which is visible to birds but not people. 2. Apply window designs with a brush or sponge, using permanent markers or tempera paint, or with a stencil. 3. Place opaque tape on the glass in attractive patterns, or use specially made ABC Bird Tape which transmits light. 4.
Apply interior window films of various colors and styles to the OUTSIDE
of the windows. Artistic window film, which can be purchased at
hardware or glass/mirror stores, is attractive and works well as long
as the 2- to 4-inch rule is followed. A perforated window film called
CollidEscape looks opaque from the outside but resembles window screen
from the inside. It works well in daylight but is not effective at
Attach lightweight netting outside the window. The netting must be
placed several inches away from the window so the bird does not hit the
window through the netting.6.
Place screening on the outside of the glass. Specially made
screens for saving birds which can be put up with suction cups or eye
hooks are available at www.birdscreen.com or www.birdsavers.com.7. Apply decals, placed close together, on glass windows. Specially made Windowalert decals work well, as described below.8. Hang ribbons, pinecones, or other decorations on the outside of windows, making sure that they are close together. 9.
Modify light regimes, which includes keeping interior lights off at
night when possible, and situating exterior lights so that they are
angled down and away from the sky.10.
Relocate bird feeders and baths to within 1 ½ feet or less from
windows, so that birds do not build up enough speed to
injure themselves if they hit the glass.11. Move indoor house plants away from windows so that they cannot be seen from outside.12. Install exterior window awnings.
are developing ways to take advantage of the fact that birds see more
ultra-violet (UV) colors than humans. Orilux, a window glass recently
developed in Germany, which uses UV colors and reduces collisions by 71
percent, was selected as one of the top ten most exciting green
building products in a recent Green Building Conference in
Chicago. Windowalert decals, which follow the same principle,
using UV colors, work well as long as the 2- to 4-inch rule is followed.
and Feather Friendly Technologies worked with the town of Markham to
test the success of using bird-safe window film on buildings and found
that they reduced bird collisions by 97 percent.
Experts at the American Bird Conservancy stress that “You can save birds from flying into your windows.”
time to begin modifying your home or other structures is before fall
and spring migration times arrive. If you plan to build or add on to
your present structures, incorporate bird-friendly guidelines into the
plans. Or choose one or more of the suggestions listed above to modify
windows already in place and reduce your lights during evening hours.
small, fragile creatures we call songbirds, many of which are listed as
endangered or threatened species, perform incredible feats as they
migrate hundreds or thousands of miles each spring and fall.
encounter an untold number of dangers on the way. Let’s do everything
we can to make their journeys easier, and to make their stop-overs on
the Outer Banks safe refuges.
The bird-friendly items can be
ordered online by going to the American Bird Conservancy, Feather
Friendly Technologies, birdsavers.com or birdscreen.com. Some are also
available at bird stores.
If you do find a bird injured in a
collision, place it in a dark safe space, such as a small box or paper
bag, with a few holes for air. If it revives and seems strong, release
it. If after a few hours it is still alive but unable to fly get it to
a wildlife rehabilitator.
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