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Chapter 2: Around the House

#6: Make your windows safer for birds

More birds are killed from striking windows than any other single direct cause of death each year. Windows kill at least 100 million and as many as one billion birds in the United States annually, and the problem is growing as window sizes increase and houses grow larger. There are several ways we can make our own windows safer for birds. Things that can help birds avoid collisions or minimize the risk of being hurt include (listed roughly from most to least effective):

  • Cover the glass on the outside with window screening at least 2-3 inches from the glass, taut enough to bounce birds off before they can hit the glass. The Bird Screen Company makes what looks like a wonderful product.
  • Cover the glass with a one-way transparent film that permits people on the inside to see out, but makes the window appear opaque on the outside. You can find information about the best available products on the Fatal Light Awareness Program website. The best product currently available, called “CollidEscape,” is marketed by Large Format Digital. When you buy this product, part of the cost goes to support FLAP. Make sure these kinds of products are mounted on the OUTSIDE of the glass.
  • Place vertical exterior tape strips on the glass, set not more than 10 cm apart, or mark the glass with permanent paint in the same way. (See Robin Stubb's comments below.)
  • Install external shutters which are kept closed when you’re not in the room or taking advantage of the light or view.
  • Install external sun shades or awnings on windows.
  • On new construction or when putting in new windows, angle the glass downward, so it doesn’t reflect sky and trees.
  • Use interior vertical blinds with the slats half open
  • Soap the window on the outside.
  • Put decals, sun catchers, mylar strips, or other objects on the window—better on the outer surface.

If none of these methods work, David Sedaris found a solution that worked for him.

Important: If you live or work in a tall building, turn off unneeded lights and keep your shades drawn at night, especially during migration.

CollidEscape view from outside CollidEscape view from inside Pileated Woodpecker at Window
This zoo window was a bird killer. They tried white-washing it, and then treated it with CollidEscape. Compare the views, inside and out. Photo courtesy of Fatal Light Awareness Program
Setting bird feeders directly on window glass actually minimizes the likelihood of bird strikes.
Window covered with screening at the Rowe Sanctuary
These windows at the Iain Nicolson Audubon Center at the Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska have window screening suspended on padded dowels from suction cup holders. (Click for enlarged view.) This was designed by The Bird Screen Company.
This window at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, overlooking many bird feeders, has outside screening affixed with nails or staples to the structure. (Click for enlarged views.) Photos by Laura Erickson.
Window angled downward at Quarry Hill Nature Center Close up of screening Screening in place
These windows above are in the bird observation room at the Quarry Hill Nature Center in Rochester, MN; they're angled downward to minimize window strikes.
Screening in place view from inside with screening in place
The EPA Environmental Research Laboratory in Duluth had a line of killer windows that took out migrants for decades. Finally a few years ago they bought netting which they suspend from the roof and hold in place on the ground with rocks. It's done a great job of solving the problem.

Robin Stubbs has gone the extra mile to figure out a good solution for her windows: I tried the experiment of putting a white grid on the outside of glass in a screen house we have and some backyard house windows. The screen house has a continuous row of windows on all sides so it looked to the birds that they could "fly through" I think. So about 4 or 5 years ago I got ambitious and bought some white acrylic paint pens at a craft store. These are like "magic markers" that put out a line of acrylic paint. So using a large yardstick I applied a grid on the outside glass using 3 or 4 rows of lines depending on the size of the window, horizontally and vertically. I also put the grid on the glass or plastic door panes. It is my opinion that this did stop bird collisions totally.

It is also true I think that if you don't wash the windows it protects the birds as the dust builds up the outside of the window is no longer very reflective. That's why my windows are not very clean, I'm just protecting the birds :-) Acrylic paint will weather off eventually especially if you use ammonia glass cleaner. It stayed on there better than I ever imagined it would tho. Judging by the ability of even water-based house paint to stay on glass seemingly for all eternity when it gets on glass accidentally, that might be the kind of substance to try if one wanted to do a permanent grid job.

I didn't try to apply the grid on the bottom halves of the screen house windows because in that case it is a screen that is facing outside. It turns out that with the grid painted on the tops and the screens on the bottom that seemed to be enough to keep the birds from striking the windows. (These screens are from 1960, black metal and corroded. Newer screens might perhaps be more hazardous.) But if you put up storm windows that makes a window particulaly dangerous again in my experience, so storm windows would be a case to try applying something on the outside of the window (and easier to deal with because you don't have to stand on a ladder to apply a grid). I never had any luck with anything going on the inside of a window because it doesn't have any effect on the reflecting outside surface IMHO. It would be interesting to know how narrow a band can be and how widely spaced the lines could be and still work. I might try the circle idea per the article as I need to redo the windows but circles might be harder to do than lines. Maybe triangles :-) ?

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All my writing, images, videos, and sound recordings are copyrighted © 1997 - 2007 by Laura L. Erickson. I love to share my work to promote bird conservation and education, and to help people enjoy and learn about the birds and other creatures who live with us on this little planet. In order to fully promote birds without the taint of commercialism, I no longer have a regular job. I produce this webpage, my radio program, and my photography and sound recordings entirely at my own expense. I could not bear for my hard work to be used to promote any product, company, or organization that is in any way harmful to birds. Please do not use any of my work in any for-profit projects without written permission from me. You can ask for permission by emailing me at chickadee@lauraerickson.com.