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Birds, migration and your windows

This black-capped chickadee, like many birds we receive during spring and fall migration, suffered from a head injury after hitting a window. (Photo: Wildwoods)

Migration. It's a herald of change, a thing of mystery and beauty. A few years ago as I was walking along a trail in Gooseberry State Park, I heard quite a loud racket above me. I looked up and was awestruck by the number of robins flitting about the tree canopy. I'd never seen so many! A truly magical sight to behold. They were migrating south in search of more plentiful food sources.

During migration season, Wildwoods suddenly sees an increase in the number of calls about window-strikes. According to a study published in The Condor in 2013, about 111 million collision-caused bird deaths occur every year at private residences.

If a bird hits your window, what should you do? Often birds are simply stunned and it can take several hours for them to shake it off. If the bird has an obvious injury like a broken wing, call us immediately at (218) 491-3604. Otherwise, the best thing to do is to leave them alone and let them recover on their own. You can put them in a box in a quiet corner of your garden to recover. If after several hours they still do not fly away, give us a call.

The best action of all would be preventative. By making some simple changes to our yards and windows we can save a lot of birds. Birdfeeders and other bird-attracting elements should be placed either within 3 feet of the window — so if a bird then hits the window it won't have had a chance to get up to full speed — or more than 30 feet away so there is plenty of space to change direction.

Moving the feeders isn't a complete solution, though. It needs to be used in conjunction with methods that make windows more "visible" to birds. Unlike humans, birds can't tell the difference between a reflection and real sky. They see a clear opening and follow their route.

There are myriad ways to make your windows more visible to birds, everything from window clings to special bird-safe screening. We've included a list of resources below for you to try out.

Once you've got the windows covered and the feeders moved, take a look around your yard for other potential hazards. Landscaping and other outdoor lights that point upward can disorient birds who fly at night. Avoid the use of pesticides and other toxins. Birds who eat affected insects can also be neurologically impacted.

With just a little bit of planning, we can all make our homes safer for birds who stop in our yards to refuel for their long journeys. Even if just two birds a year collide with the windows at each house, that's around 266 million birds a year in the U.S. It adds up quick! Here are some sources to give you a start at making your windows more visible to birds:*

• The Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends installing mesh netting at least 3 inches from a window. Mesh with 5/8-inch openings will keep birds from getting their heads tangled in the mesh and will also keep the birds from hitting the glass.

• Apply a film like FeatherFriendly from 3M, which is visible to birds outside but leaves the view unobstructed from the inside.

• If you happen to be installing new windows, you can request bird-safe glass like Ornilux or talk with your contractor about getting the glass installed at a slight angle to reduce reflection of the sky.

• You can hang string or ribbon in 3.5 to 4.25-inch intervals on the outside of your windows. You can buy a kit or get do-it-yourself instructions at birdsavers.com.

• Install decals on your windows, but make sure they are close together enough so birds don't attempt to fly between them. You can find UV-reflective (highly visible to birds, but less so to humans) decals from windowalert.com.

Megan Stanton began volunteering with Wildwoods in 2014 and became a staff member this year.

Wildwoods is a 501(c)(3) wildlife rehabilitation organization in Duluth. For information on how you can help wildlife, including volunteer opportunities, visit wildwoodsrehab.org, call (218) 491-3604 or write to P.O. Box 3161, Duluth, MN 55803.

*Wildwoods has not personally tested the efficacy of any products mentioned above and receives no benefits from listing any specific brands.

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