How to protect birds from window strikes

Up to one billion birds die by colliding into buildings every single year in the U.S.

Emily Kowalski | TPIN
An American Robin in a tree during springtime.

If you’ve ever set up a bird feeder in your backyard, gone for a walk to listen to the warblers sing in the springtime, or watched a hawk effortlessly circle overhead, you know that birds are a big part of what makes our natural world so amazing. From the tiniest hummingbird to the mightiest eagle, every bird has a vital role to play in the wider ecosystem.

That’s part of why threats to bird populations are so concerning. When we lose birds, we put our environment at risk of “ecosystem collapse.”

And one surprising threat that puts birds at serious risk is all around us: The windows on our homes and buildings. Up to 1 billion birds die after colliding with windows in the U.S. every year.

Why do birds collide with windows?

Birds are made to fly — but they evolved to navigate an environment very different from the built-up urban landscapes of today.

Smooth panes of glass are reflective. To a bird, windows don’t look like the solid barriers they actually are. If a bird can see the reflection of the sky or foliage in a window pane, it might fly right into it, thinking that there is open space on the other side.

For birds that migrate at night, windows lit up from within can confuse their ability to navigate and drawn them dangerously close to buildings. This is what led to the tragic death of over 1,000 birds in a single night at a Chicago skyscraper.

How to help protect birds from flying into windows

There are some simple steps we can take to help reduce this deadly threat to migrating birds.

  1. Use window treatments to help make windows more visible to birds. Adding decals or markings to the outside of your windows will interrupt the confusing illusion of open space and make birds better able to see the glass. You can buy decals and films especially designed for this purpose, but something as simple as using washable paint or soap to draw a grid or design on the outside of your window will do the trick!
  2. Turn the lights out after dark. The best way to help nocturnal birds avoid windows is to cut down on unnecessary light during the nighttime. This can be as simple as turning your lights out when the sun goes down, but using curtains or shutters to prevent the light inside the building from escaping will also help.
  3. Urge your legislators to pass the Federal Bird-Safe Buildings Act. Window treatments and lights-out initiatives are great ways to improve the bird safety of existing buildings, but the best way forward is to design our architecture with birds in mind. The Federal Bird-Safe Building Act will require all newly renovated or constructed federal buildings to incorporate bird-safe building materials and design features.
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