The wonders of wildlife: male birds attacking windows

A Scarlet Tanager fends off its own reflection

The phones have been ringing off the hook this week at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center’s Wildlife Education and Rehabilitation Center. We have been receiving many questions about the mild winter, how it has affected the wildlife in our area, and what we should expect from an earlier and warmer than average spring. But more than any other request, callers have been anxious to find an answer to a curious conundrum: “How can I stop a bird from repeatedly flying into my windows?”

In my role of wildlife rehabilitation coordinator at the nonprofit Center, I’ve had to address this very common question on a regular basis. This year, the Center’s wildlife specialists and I have been working to carefully assess each caller’s problem and adapt some handy tips to hopefully solve each unique situation.

Bird strikes like these are symptomatic of what we already know: Spring has sprung! It’s mating season, so it’s typical of aggressive males to want to protect their territory. It’s almost always brightly colored birds, like cardinals, robins or tanagers, which get involved in these displays of might.

As the bird flies by a window, it catches a glimpse of its own “robin-orange” or “cardinal-red” reflection and immediately thinks that an intruding bird is there. Typically, its first reaction is to continually charge at the “bird” in the window, trying to chase it away.

The Good News: Rarely does the bird ever harm itself, even when it seems like the bird is bashing itself silly. It may leave a smattering of blood on the window, but that is usually from broken feathers that are still growing in.

The Bad News: The only way to stop the bird from doing this is to take away the reflection in the window, and that’s often not easy to do.

So What’s Next? After understanding that these birds rarely injure themselves, some people choose to simply ignore the situation and let the bird continue banging into the window. The desire to chase away an intruder of the same species is only strong during the peak of the nesting season, so this behavior shouldn’t last for more than a few weeks at most.

A Simple Fix? If you do want to take the proactive approach to preventing a neighborhood chockfull of dazed bird-brains, the easiest but most extreme measure is to cover the outside of the window completely with wax paper (which will hold up in the rain) or a bed sheet or towel. It’s not the most attractive option for curb appeal, but nearly always the quickest way to alleviate the situation. Don’t forget: Everything must be done on the outside of the window because things placed inside the window often disappear behind the reflected sky and earth.

Is That It? Visually breaking up the expanse of window glass with decals or hanging items which move in the breeze might work. (I’ve even seen a set of window decals which are made specifically for this purpose on sale at our onsite Wild Birds Unlimited store.) Sometimes, placing a bright light just inside the window will be enough to take away the reflection but this doesn’t always work. Some people try scaring the bird away every time they hear it hitting the window, but this doesn’t usually work, as the bird is more persistent than humans usually are and has more time at its disposal to continue its crusade against its imaginary foe.

Will It Ever End? Eventually. This whole process will usually last about 2-3 weeks, if you can bear it. But all is not lost, this behavior generally comes to an end when eggs start to hatch and dad needs to redirect his energies to feeding his babies from sunrise to sunset.

It’s not always easy coexisting with wildlife in your own backyard, but there’s almost always an explanation for what we might see as crazy or extreme behaviors. And we’re here to help, every day, free of charge. Please don’t hesitate to get in touch with the wildlife specialists at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center by phone at 440-871-2900 or by email at

Amy LeMonds

Amy LeMonds is the Wildlife Rehabilitation Coordinator at Lake Erie Nature & Science Center and is certified by the International Wildlife Rehabilitation Council.

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Volume 4, Issue 7, Posted 10:40 AM, 04.03.2012