Thud! Virtually all homeowners have experienced the heartbreaking sound of a bird hitting their window. After the initial shock of the situation, many people brush it off as an unfortunate one-off event. But the truth is birds hit windows far more often than people realize.
Many of the beautiful birds that lose their lives at people’s homes are in the midst of an arduous, death-defying journey through foreign urban landscapes. Your windows are one of the biggest dangers they encounter along the way. Luckily, there are simple solutions to make your windows bird-safe and ensure a safe passage for these amazing little travellers.
Black-Throated Green Warbler. Photo by Carol L. Edwards.
Why do birds hit windows?
Glass is an invisible and deadly barrier to birds. Birds can’t see glass but can see through it to perceived habitat on the other side, or they see the reflection of trees and sky on the glass. Thinking that the reflection is the real thing, they fly into windows at full speed. The result is often fatal.
Most times, homeowners do not even notice when a bird has hit their window. They might not be home, or they might be in a different room. The dead or injured birds are often quickly removed by predators or scavengers, sometimes leaving no trace.
Bird migration: a perilous journey
This spring, billions of tiny songbirds, some weighing less than a toonie, are undertaking a grueling journey that would put any human athlete to shame. These birds have left their tropical wintering grounds and are racing thousands of kilometres to their Canadian breeding areas. There they will take advantage of the summer abundance of food to raise their hungry chicks before retreating south in the fall.
Migration is an exhausting and extremely dangerous time of year for songbirds. They often fly several hundred kilometres in a single night, pushing their endurance to the limit, before touching down to refuel in urban parks and woodlots, and even your own back yard.
Although bird collisions with windows are a year-round problem, they happen much more frequently during spring and fall, when migrating birds are forced to pass through unfamiliar urban areas. You might be surprised to learn that the vast majority of the estimated 25 million birds that die from hitting windows each year in Canada are killed at single family homes.
Stop birds from hitting windows
To help birds avoid a collision with your windows, you must alert them to the presence of a barrier. You can do this by applying dense patterns of markings (small dots, squares, lines, etc.) to the outside of your window.
There are a few simple guidelines to ensure that the treatment you choose will be effective. Unfortunately, there are many popular products on the market that claim to stop birds from hitting windows but do not live up to their promises because they do not meet these guidelines.
FLAP Canada’s bird-safe window marker guidelines:
Apply markings in a dense pattern, leaving no gaps larger than 5cm × 5cm (2" × 2"). If gaps are any larger, birds may try to fly through them and still hit the window.
Markings must be of high contrast to stand out on the window. Markings with poor contrast, for example black dots on a very dark window, might not be noticed by birds.
Each marking should be no less than 6mm (1/4") in diameter so it’s big enough to be spotted by birds in flight.
Markings must be on the outside of the glass. Reflections of trees or sky on the outside of the window may render any internal window markings invisible to birds.
Markings must cover the entire surface of the window.
Bird-safe window options
There are many affordable and attractive techniques to make your windows bird-safe.
Decorative and privacy window films
Frosted or decorative window films can be an attractive addition to your windows. Look for designs that meet FLAP Canada’s bird-safe window marker guidelines, or contact your local signage company and ask if they can do a custom design. Another option is one-way perforated window films such as CollidEscape, which create an opaque surface on the outside of the window but permit viewing from inside.
Feather Friendly DIY tape
Feather Friendly tape is a DIY product that leaves rows of white dots spaced 5cm (2") apart on your window so birds will understand a barrier is present. When installed according to the instructions, this product can be very effective.
Feather Friendly Window Collision Tape can be applied to windows to warn birds away from glass. Photo courtesy of FLAP Canada.
Ribbons or string
Ribbons or string hung on the outside of the window can be an effective collision deterrent if they are spaced no more than 10cm (4") apart (5cm spacing is ideal) and run the entire length of the window.
You can easily make your own device (called Acopian BirdSavers) using J-channel and paracord. Cut the J-channel to the width of your window. Drill holes in the J-channel every 5cm to 10cm (2" to 4"), and then feed lengths of paracord through the holes, making sure to tie a secure knot on each end. Mount the device securely on the outer window frame.
Patterns with tempera paint or paint pens
For a more temporary option, you can use washable tempera paint or an oil-based paint pen and treat your windows like a canvas. Draw or paint your own unique patterns on the outside of your window, making sure not to leave any gaps greater than 5cm (2").
Image right: Paint pens were used to create the pattern on this window. Image courtesy of FLAP Canada.
If you need an immediate temporary solution while you research more permanent alternatives, a bar of soap is the ultimate quick fix. Using a dry bar of soap, draw patterns on the outside of your window and reapply as needed (for example, after heavy rains).
Drawing patterns on a window using a dry bar of soap provides a temporary solution. Image courtesy of FLAP Canada.
Helping an injured bird that has collided with a window
Birds that hit windows often have internal injuries that are not obvious from the outside, even if they just look stunned. The best course of action is to safely contain the bird and immediately contact your local wildlife rehabilitation facility for advice on next steps. The faster you can get the bird to care, the better its chances of surviving and being able to continue its journey.
Depending on the size of the bird, find a small cardboard box, poke a few air holes in it, and roll up a clean, unscented tissue or paper towel as something soft for the bird to perch on. Approach the bird from behind and use both hands to gently enclose the bird. Place the bird in the box, close the box securely and place in a safe, quiet location. Minimize contact, and do not offer the bird anything to eat or drink.
We need birds (and they need you!)
Birds are an integral part of functioning ecosystems, helping to pollinate flowers, distribute seeds and control insect populations. Research even shows that being around birds makes us happier!
It’s time to return the favor and thank birds for all they do. This spring, ensure a safe passage for migrating birds by making your windows at your home and cottage bird-safe.