Spring is full of pretty sounds, but one of the sounds that I really hate is the sound of birds crashing into windows at my house. I would love to NEVER hear that sound EVER again.
Sadly, there have been times when I have heard that sound a great deal. Two of my windows in particular seem to be real problems, injuring several mockingbirds, robins and catbirds each year.
Because I maintain my yard as a National Wildlife Federation Certified Wildlife Habitat, this is particularly heartbreaking for me. I worry that sometimes I have attracted birds to a dangerous window. When I’m sitting in my office I can sometimes hear them hit the glass at top speed and more than once I’ve found a dead bird on the ground below the window, too.
In the past I have tried the stickers shaped like hawks. I have tried the stickers shaped like chickadees. I have tried the stickers made to look like spider webs. I have even tried closing the curtains on nice spring days in the hopes of reversing the problem. All of these things were supposed to scare the birds away from the glass. But in truth nothing seemed to work short of letting my windows become really dirty.
While attending a recent bird talk by Anne Lewis, however, I began to understand what was causing the problem and I think I may have found a workable solution.
Lewis is the Executive Director of a wildlife rehabilitation group in DC called City Wildlife. She recently met with me and outlined all the ways that buildings can imperil birds and some of the research related to stopping bird collisions.
Birds see reflections of trees and sky and think your window is not glass but an opening into another part of the yard, she explained.
To alert them to the pane of glass, you need to put something on it – like a sticker. The problem is that birds can fly much better than anyone realizes, she further noted. A bird can fly through an opening four and a half inches wide. It can also make its way at top speed through a vertical opening three inches tall. They are not fooled by the stickers that look like hawks, webs or chickadees. What they need is something which alerts them to the presence of the glass.
Lewis is a former architect. She thinks that the future of bird-friendly buildings may lie in the industry’s ability to create windows based on scientific knowledge about what the birds see when they are flying.
BirdTape can be ordered online. It is also for sale in DC at the Audubon Naturalist Society in Chevy Chase.
But for homeowners in the meantime, there’s some good news. Detailed research has begun to emerge about ways we can make our windows less lethal. And now the American Bird Conservancy (ABC) has come out with a product which makes the whole process of using that research very simple: BirdTape.
I asked Jim Monsma, an avid birder and a former board member for City Wildlife, if he’d come to my house and show me how to bird-proof my own windows. Jim had done his own windows at home using clear contact paper and he wanted to see how the new ABC BirdTape worked, too.
We began by cleaning my window. (Although ABC recommends using soap, water and a squeegee in order to optimize the tape’s stickiness, I found that window cleaner worked just fine for the job and did not cause the stickers to peel off. Results may vary depending on what you use as cleaner. )
For the stickers, we began in the center – this saved us from doing tricky long division math problems because once the first square was in place all we needed to know was how far to distance the other stickers around it.
Jim showed me that a regular, non-permanent marking pen could be used to mark where each of the other stickers should go. You can easily wipe off the marks later, when you are done.
Remember: the stickers need to be no more than four inches apart horizontally and two inches apart vertically.
On the ABC website they recommend using your palm as a rough guide for these measurements – which would have involved even less math and measuring than what Jim and I did. You might want to pre-measure your palm though, just to check.
The tape looks blue in the box but goes onto the glass clear.
The tape is slightly easier to work with than conventional Contact paper. It doesn’t curl up as easily and it is really nice to have the squares be all uniform and pre-cut, too. It sparkles a bit in the sun, but not so much that you see it from the ground when you look up at the window. I assume this is some kind of UV-coating which is highly visible to the birds.
I found that it was maddeningly hard to keep my fingertips clean during this whole process! White dust from the window frames and dirt from the sills kept causing me to leave fingerprints on the sticky side of the stickers. UGH! I finally stuffed a hand wipe into my jacket pocket so I could clean my fingertips off as I worked.
The BirdTape can be removed fairly easily, so if you do make a mistake you can go back and correct it. I also assume that this means you can removed the stickers later in the season without too much trouble.
Even though you can see the stickers from inside, they do not block any light from coming into your room.
UGH! Fingerprints proved maddening!
But you will be able to see these stickers from inside of your house. It is worthwhile to think of a pattern which is complementary to your house’s appearance and pleasing to people, even though this project is hopefully going to make your window more visible to birds. ABC’s website has several suggestions for patterns – but the whole time I was working on this I was thinking how fun it would be to let someone with an artist’s eye come up with a better pattern. I could imagine a very innovative math or art teacher turning this into a challenge for students: make a pattern that is bird-safe and people-pleasing.
The view from inside…
As we finished the last touches of our project Jim warned me that – at least at first — any squares that were even slightly crooked would be likely to annoy me when I looked out the window.
“Then you get used to it and you forget it is even there,” he said with a smile. His own window which he covered in similar pattern using Contact paper no longer causes bird fatalities.
Anne also noted in her talk that the peak times for bird-to-window collisions are during migration season in the fall and spring. This is when many birds that are in our yards are not familiar with the windows and the landscape. Roughly speaking that’s April and May and then again in September and October. The rest of the year the collisions are not as much of a problem.
The finished product!
If covering your windows at other times of the year is either not an option or not appealing, then by covering them at least during peak migration times you are likely to avoid most of the collisions.
Another thing I noticed: even though we have many windows, the birds only crash into those which reflect the trees in my yard. So only two windows proved to be detrimental and needed treatment.
Although my family is still a bit unsure about the window pattern made by the ABC BirdTape, there is one thing we all agree upon: there is no point in having a pretty view if what you see is a dead bird. Hopefully we won’t be seeing that ever again, or hearing those collisions, either.
-To find out more about ordering ABC BirdTape go to www.ABCBirdTape.org. The demos on that site are very helpful, as well!
-You can also purchase ABC BirdTape locally in Washington, DC at the Audubon Naturalist Society’s shop in Chevy Chase, MD or at the Patuxent Wildlife Refuge Giftshop.
Other posts you might find useful:
Choosing the Right Birdhouse
Do Birds Have a Nicotine Problem?
Stop Raking Leaves, Start Seeing More Birds