Birds and Glass: a Fatal Mix

canada warbler bird collision
This canada warbler collided with a retail store window in Highland Park, Illinois. Although collisions like this are common in Highland Park, the city manager has rejected any recommendations that require compliance with bird friendly building codes.

By Donnie R. Dann

In late April, the American Redstart, a small songbird marked with the striking orange and black colors of Halloween candy, leaves his wintering grounds in Venezuela’s rainforest and begins a 4000-mile journey to the Lake County Forest Preserve where he was born the previous summer.  His purpose is to build a nest, attract a mate, and raise a brood of young, as his kind has done for countless generations.  But first he must survive the countless threats he faces during this perilous journey, including storms, predators, a 20-hour 600-mile non-stop flight across the Gulf of Mexico, communication towers, feral and free-roaming house cats, and more.  He is almost home, and after flying over the corn and soybean deserts of central Illinois, he arrives in the Chicago metropolitan area. But there he becomes confused by a modern building with extensive glass, where he sees reflections of more sky and some shrubbery, and he flies full speed into a window that he doesn’t recognize as a barrier. He is instantly killed.

This is the “thunk” you hear upon awakening early on an otherwise beautiful spring morning. The American Bird Conservancy estimates that every home in the United States kills about two birds a year, and that up to one billion birds a year are killed by collisions with glass.

Does it really matter? There are still plenty of birds out there, right? Wrong. According to the most recent State of the Birds report by the North American Bird Conservation Initiative, “one-third of all North American bird species are in urgent need of conservation action.” The same report estimates that some species have lost 70% of their continental populations since 1970. And aside from habitat loss, collisions with windows are the second greatest source of human-caused bird mortality.

Birds provide crucial benefits to mankind, including seed dispersal, pollination and insect control, as well as the cheeriness of their morning song.. Further, bird-watching is a $40 billion economic activity. And all of these benefits are in addition to their remarkable beauty which—along with tropical fish—is nature’s showpiece. But the benefit of birds to people should not be the measure of their worth any more than the value of the rainforest is tallied by what’s on the pharmacy shelf. Birds have their own right to exist!

You can take steps to minimize bird collisions with your windows. Here are some products suitable for homes and recognized to be effective:

In addition, communities across North America, including San Francisco, Cook County, Toronto and others, have enacted bird-friendly construction ordinances applicable to new commercial, industrial and multi-families buildings. Encourage your elected officials to pass similar legislation, and make your own homes bird-safe as well.

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