Window Treatment

Hold fast to dreams, for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

~Langston Hughes

Several times this winter I have heard that familiar thud that means a winged beauty has collided with my window. A quick glance shows the track left behind by such a collision – a few feathers stuck on the glass.

feathers on window pane

Feathers on window pane (click photos to enlarge)

Luckily, at my windows, it is rarely anything more than an interruption in the bird’s burst of flight. But, nationwide, that is certainly not always the case. I was stunned when I saw a recent report providing evidence of the extent of bird mortality due to window kills. In a recent paper published in the journal The Condor, researchers estimated that between 365 and 988 million birds die from crashing into windows in the United States each year. While that is a large range, the point is that significant numbers of birds die each year by crashing into our structures, putting window collisions behind only cats as the largest source of human-related threats that kill birds. One interesting finding is that roughly 56% of mortality occurs on buildings that are 4 stories or less in height; 44% at residences, and less than1% at high-rise skyscrapers. The full report is at http://www.bioone.org/doi/abs/10.1650/CONDOR-13-09. It would be interesting to see if homes surrounded by trees have a higher incidence of bird collisions than those in open areas. Looking at a window from the outside, it is easy to see how a bird in flight, particularly one that has been startled at a feeder by a potential predator, could easily mistake the reflection in a window for safe passage through some branches.

window reflection

Reflection of trees in my window

I always check to see if a bird has been stunned by a collision, and this week I did find one.  So, I went outside to see if I could help. Years ago, my good friend, Paris Trail, shared a rehabilitation method he had used successfully on many birds that hit his woodland windows over the years. If the bird is alive (open eyes are a good sign of this), gently pick it up and bring it inside. It turns out that loss of body heat is a big killer of window-stunned birds, especially in cold weather. The American Goldfinch that hit my window was only slightly stunned, so I skipped one treatment I usually give to such birds – I turn on the faucet so just a trickle of water is coming out. Then I place the birds beak in the trickle for a quick sip (or splash).

Bird stunned after hitting window pane

This bird was stunned after hitting my window

I then place the bird in a grocery bag and roll the top so it can’t escape.

grocery bag with stunned bird in it

Paper bag with stunned bird in it

The bag then goes in a quiet, preferably dark, place like a closet for several minutes. This helps the bird calm down a bit and rest. After 15 minutes or so, or until I hear the bird moving around in the bag, I pick up the bag and take it outside (you don’t want the bird escaping into your house). I open the bag, point it out toward the woods, and the bird usually flies out. I have found this method to be very successful in helping stunned birds survive their encounter with a deceptively solid piece of woodland scenery. For some tips on how you can make your windows more bird-safe, see http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/resources/tips/bird_safe_windows.html.