A swallow that was a victim of a window collision

If you have birdfeeders in your yard, you have probably experienced the sudden collision of a bird at one of your windows.  It can happen in both winter and summer. When it has happened at our house, I have sometimes been able to rescue the bird and other times, sadly, the collision has been fatal.

One cold January morning I heard a loud thump somewhere on the outside of the house.  It sounded like a big snowball hitting.  Feeling certain that a bird had hit a window I went downstairs, opened the sliding door and looked out. To my left, buried headfirst in the snow was a blue jay.  I picked it up and held it close to my body.  It struggled a little bit, but it’s beak was opening and closing in that awful telltale way that means it has been fatally wounded.  I begged it to hold on until I could get it inside and into a dark, quiet bag or box, but it was too late.  I admit that I cried as I held this beautiful blue creature in my hand.  It’s black eye still gleamed, but its head was limp in my fingers and my tears dripped down onto its soft feathers.  Though this was an accident, it was still our windows that caused the bird’s death.  Too often this happens all over the world.  Ornithologists estimate that up to 100 million birds are killed each year by collisions with windows.

nuthatch in hand

This white-breasted nuthatch was found soon enough and recovered from a window strike.

I held the lifeless jay close to my chest and looked out the window at its companions as they continued to feed on black sunflower seeds oblivious to their missing companion.  I carried it to the woods and put it at the base of a tree, where it would either wither into dust or feed another creature of the woods.

Most often when I am home and this happens I have been able to get outside and if the bird is just stunned from the collision, I have been able to bring it inside and help it recover.  Such was the situation one summer with a ruby-throated hummingbird.

robin at window

Robins and Cardinals are notorious for attacking their reflections in windows especially in the spring time.

Again we heard a sound that alerted us to the possibility of a bird ‘strike’. It was not a loud sound, but luckily we were home and heard it.  I went out to find the little green bird sitting on the deck, its body vibrating with life.  I picked it up and carried it inside, talking gently to it. With such tiny creatures you can’t help but worry that just the stress of being held by a giant could give them a heart attack.  After putting it in a paper bag, I left it on the coffee table and went outside to work in the garden.  Mike was inside and heard the commotion a few minutes later, as the little bird was obviously trying to fly in the bag.  He took the bag outside, opened it and watched the hummer zoom away.  You can’t help but breathe a sigh of relief and smile every time one of these accident victims safely returns to the world.

stickers on windows

One option for trying to reduce bird strikes. The bigger the window the greater the reflected landscape.

wire in front of windows

A more complicated system to prevent bird strikes.

These are stories that I hope will convince you to always check when you hear something strike the window.  The quicker you get out to see if the bird has been injured or stunned, the more likely it is to survive.  Most of the time, the birds are just knocked ‘cuckoo’ (my scientific choice of word) and it is possible to help them recover by picking them up and putting them gently into a paper bag or small box.  Just make sure you roll the top down securely or put tape on the box to keep it closed.  Then put the bag or box in a quiet, dark corner and let it sit.  After 20 minutes or so most birds will have regained their senses and often you will hear them scratching or flapping; then just carry the container outside, lay it on its side and open it.  The bird will fly away if it has recovered.  The longer a stunned bird is left unattended outside, the greater the chance it will overheat in the sun, become hypothermic, or be found by a predator – usually a housecat.

One of the main reasons the collisions happen is because of the siting of our birdfeeders.  They are often not close enough to the house or far enough away, so that when startled or threatened by a predator the bird has just enough room to build up speed and hit the window with force.  Windows reflect the landscape—trees, sky, clouds— making the transparent surface appear as open space. There are a variety of actions we can take to help prevent these collisions as this article explains.

By Kate Crowley