For the Birds Radio Program: WIndow Kills

Original Air Date: Aug. 7, 1989

What birds are most likely to be killed at our windows, and how can we protect them? (3:33)

Audio missing


Window kills

(Recording of a Common Flicker)

When a flicker broke its back by crashing into a west Duluth window last week, a nice lady drove it all the way across town to me. I don’t know any way of fixing a broken back–I set the bird in sort of a sling to keep it comfortable, and kept it well fed and watered, but knew from the outset that it was hopeless. Three days after its accident, the flicker died.

Last week I also got a letter from a Two Harbors woman asking how to prevent window kills. She wrote, “It is incredibly sad to see a bird die as a result of having collided with our front picture window.”

Late summer and early fall are certainly the worst times of year for window kills. Evening Grosbeaks and Purple Finches are probably the most common victims here in the Northland—their strong, fast flight along with their general obliviousness make them easy targets for what is now one of the most serious causes of songbird mortality. For some reason Ovenbirds also hit windows with exceptionally high frequency. When I taught junior high school in Madison, Wisconsin, my classes were virtually guaranteed to have at least one or two recuperating Ovenbirds during every spring and fall migration. Many people never see an ovenbird in their lives unless one smacks into their window.

Baby nighthawks are other easy victims of windows. I took care of one young one early this summer, and then released it on the UMD campus where many nighthawks live–I found it or another one of about the same age dead three weeks later–it had struck the large glass entry to the Humanities Building.

If you want to prevent these tragic accidents, you must make your windows more visible to birds, or scare them out of approaching in the first place.

Keeping curtains closed indoors sometimes helps, especially when you have a combination of two windows opposite or at right angles to each other allowing the birds to see trees and sky through the both of them. The problem with closing the drapes is that it defeats the whole purpose of having a window in the first place. And in some windows, closed curtains actually increase the reflection of trees and sky, increasing the likelihood that birds will crash.

Probably the single best solution from the birds’ point of view is to tack or hang window screening on the outside of all dangerous windows—it reduces glare and reflections, plus when any birds do hit, they’re less likely to be hurt because the screen absorbs most of the shock.

Even if that isn’t the right solution for you, there are a few simple alternatives that will at least reduce accidents. Hanging brightly colored decorations, like “sun-catchers,” on a window apparently alerts at least some birds that the window is there. Silhouettes of flying hawks also help, though birds used to feeding near a window with one of these will soon learn to ignore it. Ever since I hung a clear acrylic bird feeder in my dining room window, not one bird has been killed there, even though before that the window was my worst offender–apparently now birds notice the window better.

Windows bring the beauty of the Northland into our homes. Let’s do our best to keep them from destroying the very beauty that we seek.

(Recording of a Common Flicker)

This is Laura Erickson, and this program has been “For the Birds.”