On The Wild Side: Time to talk about the terrible toll window strikes take on birds

A warbler recovers after striking a window. Inset photos shows a barred owl after it hit a window, and the same owl being later released into the wild. Photos by Ann Brokelman.


I’ve decided to take some time to write about a difficult, but necessary topic today: Window strikes.

I’ve wanted to discuss this for some time, but I’ve always struggled to find the right words. Well, I’ve waited long enough. If these aren’t the right words, hopefully they are close enough to get some useful information across.

How many of you readers have had a bird hit one of your windows before? Between all the houses and apartments I’ve lived in, I don’t believe I could count all the strikes.

But, think about that for a few moments. If most people have had at least one bird hit one of their windows, wouldn’t that mean… millions of strikes? Of course, not all the impacts are fatal, but we’re probably not aware of all the strikes either, if they occurred while we’re out of the home, for example.

I took a minute to Google this, and I found a shocking Government of Canada article that estimated that, every year across Canada and the United States, between 400 million and 1 billion birds die from window strikes. Every year. (Those numbers are big enough that I put the link at the bottom of the article for you to double check)

The rest of the information, about preventing window strikes, in this article comes from my conversations with Paloma Plant and Heather Smith from Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada.

They told me that in the spring migration alone, millions of national birds will hit private homes, low to mid-rise, high rise office towers, cottages, and even clear railings and fences.

Why does this happen? Many of you have probably seen, an online video of some poor person accidentally walking into a glass door. I know I have. The poor victim had no idea the glass was there.

The most important idea from my conversations with Paloma and Heather was most of these strikes are preventable.

When windows reflect shrubbery, trees, and especially empty blue sky, it’s almost inevitable that a bird will eventually hit it.

There are, however, many products off the shelf which can be applied to windows, glass doors, and other clear or reflective surfaces. The key is to do just a little research to know what makes the most sense for the outside of your windows. Luckily, if you go to the FLAP website (FLAP.org) you’ll see and learn about a wide variety of products, including how to install them yourself, to help protect our avian friends.

To help the birds all that is required was a few simple sticker-markers on the glass. To be effective, these markers were placed on the outside surface of the window, and the gaps between them were no larger than 5cm x 5cm (2” x 2”). Multiple markers are essential – a silhouette of a single bird is not going to prevent birds from hitting that window.

So, what do you do if you have a bird strike your window before you can put up your own markers?

Assuming the bird survived the impact, try to safely contain it in a non-wax-paper bag. Alternately, you could put the bird in a butterfly tent, or even a small box with a paper towel on the bottom. The bags are porous which allow the bird to breathe without punching holes in them. Then call your closest wildlife centre, such as the Toronto Wildlife Centre at 416-631-0662 and ask them for next steps or leave a message.

If you’re waiting for them to call back, please do not open the paper bag or box. The bird may try to fly out and hurt itself even more. Just put it in a dark and quiet room until you hear back from the wildlife centre. Also, whether the bird is dead or alive, go to the Global Bird Collision Mapper to post the impact info at https://www.birdmapper.org/

To date, FLAP has recorded the window/impact deaths of 176 species of birds, from hummingbirds to hawks and owls, including more than 20 species that are considered At Risk.

A final note from John Carley, Board of Directors at FLAP: Toronto with its Planning Department created the Bird-Friendly Development Guidelines, which were adopted by City Council in March 2007. At that time, these were guidelines only. However, with the establishment of the Toronto Green Standard in 2010, the guidelines became mandatory. Through successive years, the Toronto Green Standard has been updated so that now it is in Version 4 with quite strict requirements for many aspects of planning and construction, including bird-friendly measures.

For details, visit https://www.toronto.ca/city-government/planning-development/official-plan-guidelines/toronto-green-standard/

Let’s do our part to keep our feathered friends safe.

Here’s where you can buy the bird friendly tape: www.featherfriendly.com/residential

Also here is more info from the federal government: https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/avoiding-harm-migratory-birds/faq-bird-collisions-glass-windows.html

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