Help Migratory Birds Keep from Hitting Dead Ends

By ecoRI News staff

Migratory birds are on the move, winging their way from nesting and breeding grounds in North America to winter habitat in Central and South America and the Caribbean. It’s a spectacular journey, but it’s one that many of them will never finish.

Habitat loss, outdoor cats and pesticides all take their toll, but one of the biggest threats to the birds’ safe travels is one they can’t see. Hundreds of millions die annually in the United States when they collide with glass windows, according to the American Bird Conservancy. High-rise offices create an obvious threat, but about half of collisions occur at private homes. Several birds of conservation concern are among the species most vulnerable to window collisions, including golden-winged and Canada warblers, painted bunting and wood thrush.

Help, though, is as close as your local hardware or art-supply store. Window screens, painted designs and bird tape or decals, properly applied, can all deter birds from flying into glass.

Creative solutions don’t require spending a lot of money. “There's a solution for everybody and for every budget,” said Christine Sheppard, manager of the conservancy’s Bird Collisions Campaign. “Cost, aesthetics, ease of application, or how long it lasts — which solution you pick depends on what matters most to you.”

Spacing is important. Most birds will avoid windows with vertical stripes spaced 4 inches apart or horizontal stripes spaced 2 inches apart. More complicated or irregular patterns will also work as long as they follow the same spacing rules. For best results, patterns must be on the outside surface of the windows.

Here are some ways to make your home windows bird friendly, courtesy of the American Bird Conservancy:

Paint designs on your windows. Apply tempera paint — available at most art and craft stores — freehand with a brush or sponge, or use a stencil. Tempera is nontoxic and long lasting, even in rain, but comes right off with a damp rag or sponge. Find stencils at craft stores or download free stencils online. Seasonal designs make for a fun family project.

Install window screens. You can also stretch lightweight netting, screen or other material over windows. The netting must be several inches in front of each window, so birds don’t hit the glass after hitting the net. Several companies sell screens, solar shades or other barriers that can be attached with suction cups or eye hooks.

Create patterns with tape or stickers. “Applied in the right patterns, tape really works, as long as it's not clear,” Sheppard said. Translucent or opaque tape can work as a temporary fix or longer term if it’s made to last outdoors. Even a kid’s sticker collection can be repurposed to keep birds away from windows. You can use prefabricated decals, as long as you space them properly and use them on the outside of windows. The shape doesn’t matter; birds see hawk-shaped decals as obstacles but not as predators.