I had cleaned my living room window the day before and I was having a coffee looking through it at the forest when I saw an elegant bird on my fence. It was looking right at me. Suddenly the bird became agitated and flew right at me, hitting the glass with a dull ‘thunk’. I ran to the window and looked down to see if it had fallen. I didn’t see it – until my spouse found it dead behind the BBQ. I was so saddened by this wasted death: it had seen ‘another bird’ and flew at it to defend it’s territory. It was a songbird… a female scarlet tanager.
Songbirds are increasingly under threat with their number plummeting. Every. Single. One. Matters. We can’t afford to lose this breeding-age female. It was up to me to protect her against the perils of my home, and I failed.
When I last had the windows cleaned, it caused about 4 window-hit deaths despite my best efforts. That may not seem like much, but if you consider that I live on a street of 30 houses which have the same views, and you multiply that by years, and just think how many homes’ windows reflect trees.
It’s estimated that 2 billion birds a year die from window collisions. – but what does that include? And while it was thought for a long time that high-rise buildings and office towers were responsible, it turns out that low-rises and two and three story homes are just as deadly. This means the numbers we have been receiving for years were deceptively small because they didn’t include homes and low-rises.
Window collisions take a much higher toll on birds than was previously calculated. And sadly it adds to the other human-effects which are decimating populations – like habitat destruction, neonic pesticides, reduction of protective migration corridors (desperately needed to offer rest, food, and protection against predators they must be at least 50′ wide to be viable), and wires and communication towers. It’s easy to focus the blame on predators, weather changes or other effects, but the most damage being done to bird populations is human development with glass as the apex killer.
Our little blue planet is loosing birds (especially the migrating species) faster than we can update our knowledge of it. Locally, there are more and more species at risk – and the numbers of the colourful and sweet-singing songbirds have been dwindling for years. We have killed them with pesticides and herbicides (poisoned them and their food sources), de-forested their migratory paths removing food and shelter crucial for survival, logged and removed forest nesting areas, introduced foreign predator species like cats, and then built mile upon mile of windows. Tall, short, and spreading; windows are everywhere.
Birds don’t see glass. Many thermal glass windows are even worse since they are designed to reflect the sun and heat – they become even more effective mirrors to birds. They see that they are flying into the forest or tree reflected in the window – with disastrous consequences. Exacerbating the issue is the fact that people instinctively put feeders or bird baths at the most dangerous distance from the window – at just enough distance that they can pick up speed. Putting a feeder closer to the window protects birds and gives you better views.
So far my best solution has been the easiest and laziest – I just stopped cleaning my windows. My windows don’t sparkle, but I can see clearly through them and the birds see the dust residue from precipitation all over the window alerting them that there is something there. I cleaned just one large window last summer, and the bird I described hit the glass the next day. My windows were getting too dirty this year, so I had them cleaned for the first time in 3 years – and had the cleaning company put up some UV decals on the exterior glass on any windows facing trees or shrubs. Nature stores sell these and also UV tape to create a ‘grid’ across your windows to protect birds. It’s not a perfect solution but every life saved makes it worth it.
What do you do to protect birds from the windows in your home?
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Transparent Killer: Birds and Windows ~ © 2014 Natasha G