A horrific NASCAR crash made the news for a few days last month, but it had nothing whatsoever to do with car racing. Instead, the crash happened at the NASCAR Hall of Fame in North Carolina, and those involved were all birds.
About 300 chimney swifts – birds often described as looking like cigars with wings – struck the building’s large windows during their evening migration, and more than a third of them were killed instantly. Another third were critically injured with broken wings and legs and had to be treated by wildlife rehabilitators. The rest were stunned but recovered without treatment.
The sad event illustrated an ongoing problem that I’ve been struggling with at my house for many years. Window collisions cause vast numbers of bird deaths each year around the globe. By some estimates it is the second leading human cause of bird mortality after domestic cat predation. And it’s mostly preventable.
A study in 2014 found that a whopping 600 million birds in the United States die each year in collisions with windows. Other experts suggest the true number is closer to a billion bird deaths. And that doesn’t account for the birds killed flying into communications towers and power lines, which may kill another 200 million birds.
Unlike the NASCAR situation, most birds strike windows during the daytime when they perceive images of trees and sky reflected in the windows as real, and they figure they can fly right through. If they aren’t flying too fast or they realize their mistake in time, they may just bump into the window and continue on their way. At my house, that seems to be the most typical case, since I always jump up to investigate any thump on the window, and I seldom find an injured bird.
But occasionally a bird may be stunned by the collision, making it vulnerable to predation or weakened enough that bad weather or other factors do them in. The worst case is those birds that break their neck and die instantly.
Those of us with bird feeders that attract an unnatural abundance of birds are probably increasing the odds that birds will strike our windows, so we should take steps to reduce collisions as best as we can. I’ve tried several popular ideas through the years, but few of them work well and most disrupt our view out the window too much.
Decals of hawks, for instance, placed on the exterior of the window aren’t particularly effective, but strips of tape placed a few inches apart to break up the reflection will usually do the trick. I’ve even used soap to draw closely-spaced lines on the outside of the window, and it worked well in a pinch when a large flock of birds spent a few days eating berries in my front crabapple tree and were colliding with the glass. The soap washed away in the next rainstorm. Window screens are perhaps the best idea, since birds that still try to fly through will bounce off.
This year I’m trying a new product from a company called Feather Friendly Technologies – easily applied opaque dots spaced two inches apart that are hardly noticeable when I look out the window but that have seemingly ended my bird/window collision problem. I’m planning to give the product as Christmas gifts this year to my bird-loving friends. It’s the least we can do for the backyard birds that provide us with so much entertainment and enjoyment.