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Birds and Windows

One billion birds die each year in the United States due to collisions with windows.

Orange-crowned Warbler - Mary Coolidge
Orange-crowned Warbler - Mary Coolidge

One billion birds die each year in the United States due to collisions with windows. The Audubon Society of Portland's Wildlife Care Center takes in 200-300 birds each year from the Portland-Vancouver metro area that have been injured in such collisions.

Why Do Birds Hit Windows?

Usually it is a problem of perception. Birds will oftentimes see glass as open space and fly full-speed into it. Another cause of window collisions is male birds defending territories during mating season. They will see their reflection in the glass, believe that it is another competing male, and attack the glass repeatedly in an attempt to drive the intruder off. Two of the most common species to exhibit this kind of behavior in the metro region are robins and flickers. Less common causes of window strikes are disorientation due to disease and intoxication from eating fermented berries.

How to Prevent Window Strikes

  • Place bird feeders within 3 feet or greater than 30 feet from windows.
  • Use the "scarecrow" technique around windows commonly struck by birds and during mating season. You can purchase hawk silhouettes and inflatable owl decoys at the Audubon Society of Portland's Nature Store and other bird shops. Attach the silhouettes directly to the window and post the decoys nearby. These have limited success, but will sometimes slow birds down and/or scare them out of the immediate area.
  • If you have a particularly persistent and aggressive male, try affixing various objects directly to the outside of the window. Closing the shades or curtains will not work since the bird will still be able to see its reflection. Mylar tape, colorful streamers, wind socks, and fine netting can all be effective short-term deterrents. The movement of these objects will often frighten birds away. "Post-it" notes stuck all over the outside of the window may also provide an easy short-term fix. As a last resort with a particularly persistent bird, you may want to cover the outside of the window entirely with plastic. Attach to the top of the window and let it hang free at the bottom. Most breeding cycles last for a few weeks, so you will not have to keep your window covered permanently.
  • In the spring and fall, bright city lights confuse birds who migrate during the night by luring them into cities and obscuring their navigational aids. Once trapped in the windowed maze of the city, they may hit windows directly or circle buildings until they collapse from exhaustion. To help prevent window strikes during migration, make sure your exterior light fixtures are well-shielded and are not producing dazzling glare. Draw blinds or curtains to reduce light spill that contributes to sky glow. Learn about preventing office-place bird strikes during fall and spring migration.
  • A long-term solution for particularly problematic windows would be to naturescape around the window. This can be done in ways that still allow a good view out, but makes the window less apparent to the birds.
  • Let your windows stay dirty: they’re more visible that way!
  • Move houseplants away from windows where strikes are common.
  • Apply patterns or decals to the outside of windows 4-10” apart; stretch thin netting or other material over the outside of the window; apply cords to the outside of the window: www.birdsavers.com; apply a window film like CollidEscape to the outside of the window.

What To Do If A Bird Strikes Your Window

Many strikes are not fatal. Oftentimes a bird will just be temporarily stunned. The Audubon Society of Portland's Wildlife Care Center recommends placing the bird in a small box. Line the box with a towel and place half the box on a heating pad set on low. Give the bird a small bowl of water, but no food. Do not attempt to force the bird to drink. Place the box in a warm quiet place. Check the bird in one hour. If the bird is alert, active and able to fly, then release it immediately. If the bird is still having trouble, bring it to the Wildlife Care Center or another wildlife rehabilitation facility. The Wildlife Care Center can be reached at 503-292-0304.

Additional Resources

You Can Save Birds from Flying into Windows (pdf) - American Bird Conservancy brochure   

Birds and Windows Brochure (pdf)

Windows in downtown Portland - Mary Coolidge
Windows in downtown Portland - Mary Coolidge
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