Maybe you’ve seen the headlines: migrating birds collide en masse with a Texas office tower’s reflective sides, or crash into the gauntlets of glass we’ve erected in their flight paths through New York or Chicago. But this problem isn’t unique to big cities or migration season. Each year between 365 million and 1 billion birds die from collisions with windows across the United States. The overwhelming majority of those window strikes occur at residential and low-rise buildings, with fewer than 1 percent caused by skyscrapers.
So no matter where you live—an urban high-rise or a one-story suburban house—sooner or later window strikes will likely hit close to home. When they do, try these tips from the experts to help injured birds and prevent future collisions.
Check for Life
Even when a bird survives a strike, it is often stunned and may appear dead or injured. If it isn’t immediately apparent whether a bird is dead or alive, you can find out by gently moving its legs, says Rita McMahon, director of Wild Bird Fund in New York City. “Birds go into rigor exceedingly quickly, like in a matter of minutes,” she says. “If the legs don't move, the bird is dead. But if they move, the bird’s just unconscious.”
Handle with Care
If the bird is alive, slowly approach, perhaps from behind to avoid startling it. Pick up the bird and put it into a paper bag or a shoebox. If you don’t have gloves, make sure your hands are clean to protect the bird’s feathers, and wash your hands afterward. If you’re far from home, you might consider placing the bird in a large pocket to warm it up, McMahon says. Birds’ body temperatures run around 105 degrees, so lying on the sidewalk even on a warm day can sap their body heat.
Call in the Pros
Hitting glass often leaves birds with concussions. Some might have pelvic injuries from sticking their legs out toward the window in a last-second attempt to avoid collision. “A lay person isn't going to know or recognize all the signs of various bird injuries and certainly wouldn’t be able to provide the proper medical treatment,” says Sunny Kellner, wildlife rehabilitation and outreach specialist at Sharon Audubon Center.
That’s why the best thing to do for a window-collision victim is to get the bird to a wildlife rehabber who can provide expert care and anti-inflammatory medication. Check out The Humane Society's state-by-state list of rehabilitators, or use the Animal Help Now website or app to search by your location.
Avoid transporting the bird in any container with holes, loops, or strings that can entangle its legs. A simple paper bag works well, McMahon says. Or use a shoebox lined with newspaper, paper towel, a cotton pillowcase, or a T-shirt.
Open Your Home
If you can’t get the bird to a wildlife rehabber, the next best thing is to take it to a safe place where it won’t fall victim to predators, hypothermia, or other hazards. You can keep the bird in a paper bag or shoebox in a dark, quiet room in your house away from pets and people. Leave the bird undisturbed for about an hour. “Then listen,” McMahon says. “If you hear that bird tap-dancing around inside, he’s feeling better.”
When that happens, take the bird out to your yard or a park and let it go. This doesn’t guarantee the bird is recovered, since it hasn’t had expert care, says Jenith Flex, board member with Lehigh Valley Audubon Society and a volunteer wildlife rehabilitator. But this is a way to help if a rehabber isn’t an option.
Resist any urge to extensively interact with the bird. Less is more. “Our voices and our handling and our petting—things that may be soothing to our pets at home—are not the same for these wild animals,” Kellner says. Don’t try to feed the bird or give it water, either. Putting water down a bird’s throat can cause it to aspirate. It will be okay without food or drink for the brief time it’s in your home.
Contribute to Science
Unfortunately, not every bird can be saved. If you find a bird that you suspect has been killed by a building strike, you can contribute to research that might help save birds in the future. Report the death or injury from anywhere in the world on iNaturalist or NYC Audubon’s dBird database. These data provide valuable evidence when conservationists approach building managers and ask for their windows to be made more bird-safe.
Take Preventive Measures
Don't wait until a bird hits your window. You can work proactively to prevent future bird injuries and deaths by making glass safer for birds. There are many ways to go about this. Hanging cords inside the window or applying dots to the glass can dramatically reduce collisions. Flex suggests using a glass pen and a ruler to draw vertical lines across the outside of the whole window, four inches apart. Kellner recommends UV-reflective window film. Though less effective, closing blinds is an easy way to at least decrease collisions. And if you feed birds at home, place feeders and bird baths either within three feet of windows, so birds can’t gather much speed before hitting, or more than 30 feet away.
Another easy and effective way to minimize collisions is to turn off lights on nights when birds are migrating. McMahon suggests signing up for alerts from BirdCast, an online tool that uses real-time radar data to send notifications when there’s going to be a high volume of migrating birds. Those nights in particular are when you should turn your lights out and ask building managers to do the same, she says.
Caring for injured birds does good. But when it comes to window strikes, Flex says: “Prevention is the best remedy.”