how to help prevent window strikes by songbirds

IDIDN’T WASH MY WINDOWS all spring and summer one year, and though I hated looking out through dust and rain splatters and my cat’s many pawprints, it was part of an experiment to see what—if anything—might help reduce the horrible event of window strikes by songbirds, a leading cause of their death.

The mirror effect of glass can be confusing and lethal to birds, who see a whole landscape reflected in it and keep flying. But how to minimize harm? Here’s what I know (and what I know about being a good host to birds in general is in the 2014 video above, from the “Growing a Greener World” public-television show):

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that as many as a billion birds die each year after striking plate glass. It happens at skyscrapers and private homes, in cities and rural settings. I used to think it was just me, as if I was doing something horribly wrong. A few years ago I read a blog post by David Sibley (author of the Sibley Guide to Birds series) that revealed how troubled even he was at his own home with the same problem, and how he was working to solve it.

Sibley tried various tactics, including drawing a mesh-like grid with yellow marker on the insides of his windows, and stringing monofilament vertically on window exteriors and more. You can read more about his experiments, and recommendations, in this article of his.

Cornell’s Lab of Ornithology (the other guest interviewed in the video up top) recommends a taut, 5/8-inch mesh stretched 2-3 inches from the glass surface. Their other tips, and more about why birds strike windows, is in this article.

The urban environment, with its skyscrapers glowing with light even at night, when birds migrate en masse, can be especially costly to songbird populations. In August 2012, NPR.org did this two-part series on birds and windows and efforts to improve architecture with birds in mind.

Everyone agrees that what won’t work, even in the comparatively small-scale environment of the private home with average windows, is a single decal. Traditionally a hawk was the image recommended, as if it would scare birds away. However, UV-reflecting decals, if spaced closely for substantial exterior coverage as the packages explain, can help. I tried this—using the Window Alerts brand–but I thought it was worse than looking through a screen would be, frankly. You might disagree.

The big advantage: All you have to do is stick them on the exterior glass, and you’re set—but remember, they have to be spaced close together. I see that there are now whole sheets of see-through, reflective fabric available—it looks like that stuff they put ads on city buses to me.

Next on my list to explore are Sibley’s other recommendations (whether homemade facsimiles, or mail-ordered):

Proper feeder positioning can sometimes reduce incidents. Place feeders either closer than 2 feet from the building, or 30-plus feet away, to reduce high-speed impacts en route to them. (The same is true for birdbaths, apparently; houses, such as bluebird houses, should probably be even farther–some sources say 100 feet.)

And by the way: From my own very unscientific test, I can confirm that not washing your windows works, at least pretty well. (I finally couldn’t stand it any longer, though, truth be told).

Categoriesbird sh-t
  1. itchbay says:

    I had a sparrow hit my front window and die. It was heart-breaking. We had new windows installed last winter, and they have UV coating that is highly reflective at certain times of the day.

    I’ve taken to leaving the drapes closed halfway on that window, so I still get some sunlight, but it narrows the area that is confusing for the birds — the drapes make it less reflective than the dark interior. And at dusk, I make sure there is at least one light on downstairs to illuminate the interior.

  2. CJ says:

    Interestingly, it appears that it is only Robins that ever do this at my home but I had so many last year that, like you, I did not wash my windows this past spring (we generally do it eraly spring and late fall); it did help. I think it exacerbated by the fact that we have reflective UV tint on our south-facing windows which is where this occurs.

  3. Susan says:

    Last week a hawk hit my window. He lay on the ground for a few minutes and then flew away. I guess he was ‘t hurt . Often little birds hit my window but they don’t seem to hurt themselves They fly awayI hope that means they are alright.

  4. Julie says:

    Heading into our third bird feeding season in our house and have had zero bird deaths. I have had a few hits though… I think one thing that helps prevent deaths is having a window feeder (attaches to the winter via suction)… Birds tend to come to shrubs alongside, then head to the feeder from the side. Seems to improve their depth perception – plus they come much slower to the window. Unproven but it’s my theory! It’s also fun to watch them eat.

  5. Deborah B says:

    We used to have a huge problem with birds flying into the windows here, especially in the sunroom, where there are windows on 3 sides. And they didn’t just bounce off and then fly away after a minute. They break their necks. I stopped opening the curtains on one side, which helped a little, but then I found some of those window stickers (from Window Alert and Audubon) at a yard sale. They work really well for us. I put 2 or 3 on each window (upper or lower). Some are a little goofy looking, like the hummingbird. I like the big spider webs the best; they’re not that bad to look at. I’ve had them up for 2 years now, and haven’t found 1 dead bird under any of the windows. They really do work.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Deborah, for the input. Sounds like you really have it under control — and from a tag-sale find no less. Lucky you!

      @Susan: I read various scientific studies (especially by Daniel Klem Jr. of the Univ. of Southern Illinois) about this and they say that even the ones that fly away often die. That upset me even more, since I have always thought, “phew! he made it!” when one seems to recover and fly away. I think it’s like half who hit die, even if they fly away at first.

  6. Jan says:

    On a related subject, I had a female cardinal repeatedly attack my basement window. She did it so much I couldn’t figure out how she had time to eat or build a nest. I blockaded the window with some hardware cloth and she moved to the other basement window on another side of the house. When I blocked access to it, she moved to the deck and attacked the sliding glass door. I propped up a small children’s book turned to the page of an owl (artist’s rendition, not a real photo) and she not only left the window, but left the area. I live in the country and the closest habitat conducive to cardinals is a mile away. I’m hoping she finally had time to nest. The poor male would stand around nearby just watching.

  7. Smallpeace says:

    Heartbreaking! I had one “hit” two years ago and wandered around the front yard holding the dead little chickadee in my palm, just weeping and weeping. I immediately ordered UV decals (rather unsightly maple leafs, but there you have it) and have had no tragedies since. But I have been looking for a better, more attractive resolution. I’ll look into the netting. Better yet, maybe I’ll invent something! Thanks, Margaret.

  8. LuAnne says:

    I too have had success with the clear UV decals. We moved to a new home 5 years ago, and the first year here we had several bird strike fatalities. Went to the internet for suggestions. I ordered UV vinyl decals from Duncraft.com and since applying them 4 years ago, we have not had a fatality and only a few “stun” level strikes. This past year we replaced the original decals with new ones, as I feared the UV coating might be wearing off by now. For a 4′ x 6′ three large decals is sufficient, and one or two for narrower windows. So they may be worth a try before resorting to more complex or unsightly solutions.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, LuAnne and Gretchen, for the first-hand input. Very helpful. Good to get a discussion going and hear what everyone is having success with. Hope to see you both soon again.

  9. Gretchen says:

    That CollidEscape stuff is great!!! You can get it in black as well, so that it doesnt look odd from outside – I think it is the best solution and reasonably priced!

  10. Jan C. says:

    I read recently about taping some ribbon to the out side of the window to flutter in the breeze. Plan on trying it with the ribbon from Christmas presents. They seem to do it on my east window.

  11. Marty says:

    I have a large chokecherry tree 15′ from my front picture window (1-story house) with 4 feeders in it. To keep the redpolls from flying into this 4’x6′ window I’ve strung a line outside the top of the window and hung fallen birch branches on it. The birds fly and light on the branches on the outside of the window much to the delight of my 10 indoor (rescues) cats! Over 20 years I’ve had less than a 1/2-doz stuns, only one death that I can remember. I leave it up year-round, replacing branches as needed and wash the window only ever 3 years or so. I don’t care how others view it, I love “my” birds!

    1. Margaret says:

      Hi, Jan. I have read that, too. Good idea for recycling the ribbon — just don’t use anything plastic, of course, as when it breaks down it can be bad for birds and other animals (releasing bits of plastic into the landscape/environment). Or take it in before it deteriorates and make another one. :)

      Hi, Marty. Your cats certainly have the most tempting of views! Love the idea that it’s birch branches — sounds pretty. Kind of a mobile.

      See you both soon again, I hope.

  12. sallie says:

    I put muntins (grilles) on my casement windows in my sunroom and haven’t had any bird strikes in two years. You can remove them for cleaning I had them custom made by bigbluewindow.com and they are very nice looking.

    1. Margaret says:

      Great and sensible suggestion, Sallie. Thank you. My windows are very large 2-over-2 panes, very old fashioned, and cannot take grilles, but I think that’s a great idea on typical-sized windows. So helpful!

  13. Penny says:

    We used to have many strikes, and then we had none for a while…until this fall. We figured that the birds were getting drunk on the fermented berries and that was why they were having perception issues! We cleaned up all the berries on our shrubs and trees and it seemed to help a lot!

  14. Patrick says:

    I have my office in the three season sun room (we heat it in winter too – when we are out there. Anyhow. glass on three sides.

    I have window alerts all over the place, but I placed them strategically so as not to block the sightlines to the feeders and certain garden features. After only a very short time we never even noticed them, so don’t be afraid to put two or three on a window pane. They have worked very well.

    Also, I only wash the windows twice a year, except the few I always seem to look out of. If you are inviting birds into your yard, I think it is a responsibility to make a little sacrifice.

    The most bird strikes iI’ve had were juncos hitting the picture window in the front of the house. I had to stop feeding them out front, and I put up alot of window alerts. Solved the problem.

    I was told that a great many birds strike when in a blind panic from a hawk for example. I think having plenty of sensible shrubs (i.e. not ones that want to grow up over the windows) foundation plantings which offer good shelter also helps a lot, because the birds that frequent your yard will get used to diving into them if alarmed.

    1. Margaret says:

      Thanks, Patrick, for the details of your successes. I can definitely say that when a bird of prey visits the others all rush off, and there is also lots of high-speed action at mating/nesting time it seems, and during the turf wars surrounding it. See you soon again, I hope.

  15. fern says:

    I had a number of bird kills, including a white throated sparrow, a female bluebird that had been nest building in my yard and a few others until i finally figured out what was happening. i on’t have feeders positioned near my front door storm door pane, which is where they were striking.

    i cut out colored squares of paper and taped them on the window, about 6 or 8 spread all around. It has solved the problem.

  16. Elaine says:

    Hi, Margaret. Thank you so much for this post. I have had a problem with a few bird strikes on my windows at home, but more recently at my office and bought some of Martha’s snowflake window clings to put on the windows hoping that would help. At my parents house in Florida they had a bird strike so hard that it not only killed the bird by cracked the outer glass of their dual pane window. My mother, being an avid bird watcher, was so distressed that one of her birds died, that she had my dad hang nylon strips outside the window so it wouldn’t happen again. It doesn’t look all that great, but they blow with the wind and don’t hamper visibility that much. I like the the looks of the Acopian Bird Savers and am going to check them out. Thanks again!

  17. Nancy says:

    There is a 6 feet hologram decoration of duckies strung together by rings of metal that I bought for $2 at ACMoores last Easter season. Glitters and flutters in the sunlight. I also have the leaf decals, but they advise replacing every few years and are costly (not happy with the performance and I have purchased more than a few sets). I also use those popular gel seasonal ‘color forms’ to decorate my sliders and between the 3 I hope to keep the female cardinals alive this spring and summer.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Nancy. Sounds like you have it covered! :) The UV decals do say to replace regularly; good reminder. Hope to see you again soon.

  18. Deborah Smith says:

    I rarely wash the windows (looks awful, but oh well) so don’t have a problem with bird hits here. I remember them as a kid though. My Mum always had an immaculate house…

  19. Leeann says:

    Since we live in the suburbs, and unfortunate things such as the odd rat must be considered, and we have ground feeding rules, the only place for our feeders is on the driveway, across from the kitchen windows, where we have paved a spot and can sweep up (after the juncos are finished, of course). We have not had a strike on this side of the house, are wondering if it is perhaps because the feeders are situated next to the neighbor’ open yard and that seems to be the flyway. The other thing that we have done ( aside from the pointless single decal) is to reverse the screens on our double hung windows. In the kitchen, they are on the top, and we are wondering if that has made a difference. We originally did it to keep one of the cats from sitting on the sill over the food prep area, but we have also discovered that it gives us a clear view of the feeding and water station.
    We did however experience a terrible tragedy several summers ago, when a young sharp shin struck the side of our house ( not a window) and broke his neck. He is buried under a Buddha in our garden. Thank you for all of your wonderful advice.

  20. Cat says:

    my parents have had problems with birds flying into their sliding glass doors. when my younger cousin came over, my mom got out some of those old holiday decal things that are plastic-y and cling to the glass- no bird problems! once she took them down (the halloween set) we started to have some bird hits again. she found a set of music notes that we had and has those covering both doors from waist height up (there is a railing about waist high around the little area). no more bird crashes. i think she got the decals when my sister and i were little through school catalogs or something. if you look for window clings on amazon they are similar to what we have. i think we have the snowflake ones, among ones for each and every holiday out there.

    in my yard, the feeders are probably about 15 feet from any windows- i live in an apartment in brooklyn, and our set up is a house with 2 apartments in front, then a shared garden/yard area, then another house with 2 apartments in the back. they space between the houses is maybe 30′. however on the two sides that are not houses, one is the brick wall of another apartment building, and the other is a cement/brick wall that is 5′ tall or so. the feeders are up against the brick wall of the other apartment building, so no worry of them going to far.
    we try to keep the stray neighborhood cats out of the yard, however the dog sitter our neighbors use feeds them when she comes :/. we try to discourage it since they bring disease, and as horrible as it makes me feel to say, feeding them increases their “fitness” and allows them to be more likely to reproduce, and increases the number of cats that can be sustained in the area. (i have 2 rescue cats, one that was a stray). also not good to feed birds to feed cats. we continue to try to improve our blocks to keep them out of the yard. they also love to poop in my garden.

    1. margaret says:

      Hi, Cat, and thanks for the details of your family’s efforts to prevent bird strikes. You should see the various stickers and streamers I’ve got going here!

  21. Kathy Sturr of the Violet Fern says:

    We finally, finally put in a glass sliding door and windows on our back porch renovation – then, boom, window strike – not fatal, thankfully. Since then, I have hung small crystals from suction cup hangers in the windows. They make wonderful rainbows in the morning sun and so far no more window strikes. Although, I did see Disco Duck!

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