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Keeping birds from hitting windows is more important than you may think

A gray bird perches on an evergreen tree branch with pinecones hanging from it in front of a bright blue sky.
Frank D. Lospalluto/Flickr

According to a recent study, between 365 and 988 million birds are killed each year in building collisions, and particularly, collisions with windows.

"The reason why that happens is because it just looks like nothing to birds. It's a clear barrier," said Jacqueline Downey with Audubon Rockies. "And we've all run into a screen door, or some sort of thing like this, that happens from time to time. We just don't see it, we're going fast, which is what happens with birds too, they just don't see it, they're maybe going fast. Or sometimes they see a reflection of themselves, or sometimes they'll be things in the background of that window that the bird may think is a habitat for them. And so they'll just fly right into the window."

According to Downey, who manages Audubon education programs for Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah, 70 percent of birds in the world are migrating birds.

"And it doesn't have to mean that they're long distance. Not all of them go hemisphere to hemisphere, but a lot of them will migrate at some point twice a year. And of those birds that are migrating, 80 percent of them are actually migrating at night," said Downey.

Because of this, most bird strikes happen at night. Downey attributes this mostly to artificial lights, which can mess with a bird's perception.

"Especially in Wyoming when we're traveling at night, it's this darkness out there, but then you come to a small town even and you can see the light pollution from far away," she said.

The simplest way to keep birds from running into windows at night is to turn off lights, especially during migration periods of April, May, September and October. Downey also recommends covering lights that shine up so that they shine down.

"Especially in large cities, like Denver, there's a whole lights out project that takes place in a lot of urban areas where they're starting to see that this is an issue," she said. "So during those months, they're trying to minimize the amount of lights they have on. There's even just local citizens in the greater urban areas, in the sprawl, who are choosing to turn off their lights during that time."

But some bird strikes do happen during the day, often in areas where birds are congregating, like at bird feeders or near trees. According to Downey, keeping birds from hitting windows during the day is fairly simple too.

"You want that glass to be more visible to birds. So you may want to put your beautiful stained glass decorations in your window. You may want to put little decals, you can do [invisible] strips, there's a variety of things, depending on whether you want to go with something that you see," she said. "Or maybe you don't want to have anything in your window that you can see, they still have products that are available to you. But something as simple as putting up a stained glass decoration or stickers also helps."

There are stickers that birds can see but are nearly invisible to people that are made for windows. Downey said there are even windows that use similar technology to keep birds from running into them but allow people to see through them.

But making your window more visible doesn't have to break the bank.

"One of my favorite places that has managed this is the Draper Museum here in Wyoming," she said. "They have a bird feeding area outside and they utilize fishing line that they put outside of the windows. And on the fishing line along the way, they put things like little feathers or little beads. And that was a really beautiful way to do that to kind of let birds know, hey, there's something that's there."

If you do have a bird survive running into your window, Downey suggests leaving it where it is to recover if you don't have outdoor pets or animals that will bother it. If you're concerned for the bird's safety, she said you can bring it inside in a box and keep it somewhere warm and quiet until it has recovered. If you need to, you can try to find a rehab location for it, but there aren't many options in Wyoming for most birds.

"There are bird rehab locations in Wyoming, for the most part, however, it'll just be raptors that have rehab centers. But you can always call and look up for your nearest rehab center," Downey said. "Game and Fish is a great place to call. Your local vet is also a great place to call because they generally will have the contact for if there is a local rehab place. And if not, they'll be able to connect you with somebody who can help you out."

For more information on bird collisions or what to do if you find an injured bird, you can visit the Audubon website.

Ivy started as a science news intern in the summer of 2019 and has been hooked on broadcast ever since. Her internship was supported by the Wyoming EPSCoR Summer Science Journalism Internship program. In the spring of 2020, she virtually graduated from the University of Wyoming with a B.S. in biology with minors in journalism and business. When she’s not writing for WPR, she enjoys baking, reading, playing with her dog, and caring for her many plants.
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