Photos by Doug Pifer
It can happen anytime, any season. You hear a loud thump against a window of your house, look outside and see nothing. Later you may notice a bird on the ground just outside the window. It isn’t dead, just sitting quietly. What should you do?
Bird enthusiasts used to recommend that you gently pick the bird up and place it in a safe, dark spot, like an empty shoe box with a few holes punched in the lid, and leave it alone in the dark to rest quietly overnight. Then next morning take the box outside, remove the lid and the bird flies out good as new.
This is no longer the best thing to do, according to a recent “patient of the week” email from the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center in Millwood, VA. Their early December edition features a pair of American goldfinches, now in gray winter plumage. Both birds had struck the same window at the same time. A kind individual brought them to the Wildlife Center where they were treated for minor head trauma and injuries and are expected to recover and to be returned to the wild. The male of the goldfinch pair had been bleeding from his left ear.
According to the email, research has now shown that simply letting the bird rest for a few hours before release is inadequate. Damage to the bird may not show up until more than a day after the window strike, long after the bird can fly off.
Well-meaning bird lovers naturally position bird feeders next to a window where they can be viewed easily. But if a flock of birds is feeding there and a hawk or other predator suddenly appears, the birds’ survival responses take over and they scatter in all directions. Some of them are likely to fly smack into nearby windowpanes and injure themselves.
Wildlife rehabilitators now say if you see a bird hit a window, contain the bird right away. Do not release it but take it to the nearest wildlife rehabilitation facility as soon as possible. There professional rehabilitators can examine the bird and monitor it for a few days. Its injuries can be treated and further complications such as damaged air sacs or breathing difficulty can be resolved. Additionally, the bird receives the proper diet it needs to recover quickly so it can be released as soon as possible.
A flying bird usually sees window glass as sky or as open space it can fly through rather than as a hard surface. You can break up the reflections on your windows with tape, paint, or decals spaced no more than two feet apart. Putting a single decal of a flying hawk or perched owl on your window isn’t enough.
A quick search of the internet will reveal many types of decals, tape, or other material that you can easily apply to your windows without damaging the glass. Patterns or stripes of translucent dots or squares allow you to see out the window, while birds outside now recognize the glass as a barrier to avoid.
Like all wild creatures, birds need every advantage to survive. While lucky and healthy individuals can live for many years, their survival from minute to minute is balanced on a razor’s edge. One minor accident, such as a window strike, could place them in danger of losing their lives.
Window strikes can be deadly, and prevention is better than treatment!
Doug Pifer is an artist, naturalist, and writer. He has a Master’s Degree in Journalism from Penn State and has been an editor and art educator. His illustrations have appeared in various books and magazines and he has been a contributor to The Observer for several years. He lives with his wife and assorted animals on 5.7 acres in a historic farmhouse near Shepherdstown.By Doug Pifer