It may come as a surprise but window collisions are the second leading cause of death to birds, right behind predation by pet and feral cats. From 330 million to as much as one billion birds are thought to perish every year from window collisions and it is one of the primary causes for why most songbirds are declining, some at an alarming rate.
While there has been a lot of press attention on large concentrations of birds flying into tall buildings in major cities and radio towers in rural areas throughout North America, it’s the collective impact of all the windows adorning America’s tens of millions of homes that’s the primary reason for the high mortality numbers. In fact, the American Bird Conservancy estimates that each house in the country kills one to two birds annually. Given the generally small size of the birds most homeowners are probably unaware their windows pose any risk at all to birds.
Songbirds are the most frequent victims. Birds such as ruby- and golden-crowned kinglets, dark-eyed juncos, white-throated sparrows, black-capped chickadees, ovenbirds, brown creepers, hermit thrushes, and magnolia warblers are common songbird victims but many dozen more songbird species also die from window collisions. Birds-of-prey, woodpeckers, shorebirds, hummingbirds, rails, and game-birds also routinely die from window collisions. A total of 155 bird species have been documented victims in eastern North America.
For Peter Walsh, Seatuck’s Education Director, it was a southbound migrating Northern Waterthrush that became a window victim at the South Shore Nature Center. Working at the Nature Center one day Peter heard a thud on an east-facing second floor picture window (see photo). Going out to investigate he found the waterthrush, a species of warbler, laying on the patio (see photo). It was yet another victim of a window it never saw. What it did see was the reflection of a nearby tree and the scattered blue of the sky around it and thought the window opening was a portal to a forested area laying on the other side.
Fortunately, there is a great deal of research going on to better understand the “whys and hows” of window collisions and what steps homeowners and building managers can do to reduce or eliminate window strikes. The key is breaking up the outside reflection the bird sees so that it can see the window pane for the deadly, transparent, and rigid surface that it is. Stickers or objects placed on the inside of the window are much less effective. The American Bird Conservancy sells window tape which is applied in parallel rows on the outside of the window and can be effective in stopping collisions. Another product, manufactured by WindowAlert, are 4” square UV reflecting stickers that are also applied on the outside of the window.
There is also legislative action to protect birds. The window bird collision issue is an element of Seatuck’s island-wide recently announced “Campaign for Conservation” and we intend to work with Assemblyman Englebright to advance his legislation to protect birds from window strikes. We’ll keep you posted as we work on this measure during the 2016 New York State legislative session. If you want to learn more about this important issue and what you can do to lend a hand go to the American Bird Conservancy’s (www.abcbirds.org) or the Fatal Light Awareness Program’s (www.flap.org) webpages.
- John Turner, Conservation Policy Advocate
Photo: Northern waterthrush after window strike at South Shore Nature Center (c) 2015 Peter Walsh