Estimates suggest that 600,000 to 1 billion birds die each year in North America due to collisions with glass. The good news? Glass collisions are an entirely human-caused source of bird mortality and it is within our power to fix it.
When birds hit windows, it is a life-threatening occurrence. Blunt trauma for a bird does not always mean a quick and painless death. On the contrary, birds that are able to fly away from the window are quite likely to succumb to their injuries later. Birds need to use their face to access food and eat it, which is difficult with a concussion or a broken beak.
We only detect a very small percentage of collisions, but they are very common. With more people working from home during the lockdown this spring, collision intakes at bird rehabilitation centers hit record numbers. And spring is the slow season! Fall migration is when collision numbers peak, to match the increase in the bird population. Unfortunately, windows do not assist with natural selection: healthy adults and juveniles are just as likely to collide with glass as unhealthy individuals are, and cannot learn or adapt to avoid the glass. Migrating songbirds are at highest risk, and are also in the steepest declines, so doing what we can to prevent window collisions is critical to their survival.
Every home is a risk to birds. 2016 estimates indicate that if every home in the average subdivision made their windows bird-friendly, we could save between 100 to 500 birds per year in the average neighborhood.
How can you prevent window strikes at your home or work place?
- Identify your problematic windows. Focus your efforts on the windows on your property that have caused bird-collisions. To determine which windows have caused collisions, monitor your property in the morning, two to three times a week, searching for evidence of collisions, which could include imprints or smudges on the windows, feathers below or near the window, or injured or dead birds.
- Install bird-friendly solutions to your most problematic windows. Exterior patterns on the outside of the glass are best at reducing bird-window collisions. Studies have shown that the spacing of these exterior window patterns needs to be at least 2 x 4 inches, and that 2 x 2 inches is even better for smaller species, like Michigan’s Ruby-throated Hummingbirds, which are more prone to window-collisions. For a list of quick and affordable ways to protect birds from your windows, check out American Bird Conservancy’s (ABC) Bird-friendly Windows Flyer. ABC also has a bird-friendly products database, for more options.
By making your home more bird-friendly, you can join more and more major cities that are adopting bird safe building codes, launching collision monitoring projects, and becoming aware of the sheer scale of the bird collision problem. “Bird City” programs are popping up across the country with pledges to support pollinators and habitat.
Interested in joining a building collision monitoring effort near you? Safe Passage Great Lakes is seeking community science volunteers to monitor buildings two to three times each week, between March 15 and May 31, 2021, in urban areas across Michigan that may pose a danger to migrating birds. The data collected will be used to start conversations with building owners and city officials about making the city a more bird-friendly community. Join an existing Global Bird Rescue Teams in a city near you.
- Ypsilanti and Ann Arbor, please join the Washtenaw Safe Passage team
- Wayne State University, Detroit, please join the Detroit Audubon Safe Passage team
Don’t live near a team? You can submit any bird collision observations as an individual using the Global Bird Collision Mapper App.
How can you help birds that have hit a window?
- Grab the bird immediately. Don’t hesitate. You cannot help a bird that has gotten away from you. Gloves are a good idea for hawks and owls. A gentle, yet firm grip is all that’s needed.
- Contain the bird. In many cases, an un-waxed brown paper bag will suffice, as long as it is clipped shut. Shoeboxes are ok as well. Paper towel liner is ok but any material that will snag tiny toenails is not. Larger species may require much larger boxes.
- Call a professional. Rehab provides the best odds of survival, which involves anti-inflammatory medications, pain killers, supplemental oxygen, species-appropriate food, and ~72 hours of observation.
- South East Michigan is lucky to have the Bird Center of Washtenaw (734) 761-9640, based in Ann Arbor. It’s Michigan’s only rehab center specializing in songbirds and it takes in over 1,400 birds per year, funded entirely by small donations and grant
- Animal Help Now (ahnow.org) uses your location to find nearby rehabbers, and has a free app that can be downloaded for all wildlife emergencies, not just birds! Wildlife rehabbers, even if they’re not in your area, may be able to coach you through the situation.
It takes bird-safe glass and buildings, to have truly bird-safe communities.
- JustSaveBirds.com, Heidi Trudell
- American Bird Conservancy
- FLAP Canada
- Global Bird Rescue
- 3 Billion Birds Population Decline Study
- Sun City Bird Club Guide to Bird Window Collision Prevention Systems
- Heidi Trudell is a coordinator for Washtenaw Safe Passage, and serves on the boards of Detroit Audubon, and the Bird Center of Washtenaw. She has been a window collision researcher, bird safe building consultant, and advocate since 2003. She also serves as a Conservation Committee member for Black Swamp Bird Observatory.