How You’re Killing Birds (and How to Stop)

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Photo: Losonsky (Shutterstock)

It’s a tough life out there for a bird, but natural threats like predators aren’t the only reason. Of the top three causes of wild bird deaths, two can be easily eliminated or reduced: outdoor cats and large, bonkable windows.

The other cause—and by far the largest—is habitat loss, which is a more complex issue. To be clear, deaths from cats and windows pale in comparison to this larger problem. You may think of construction projects, which are certainly in the mix. But a major human cause of declining bird populations is climate change, as our friends at Gizmodo have explained.

What to do about cats

The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that free-roaming domestic cats kill 2.4 billion birds annually, with each individual cat estimated to kill about 34 birds per year.

The simplest solution is to keep cats indoors, which is also safer for the cat. (Indoor cats live longer than outdoor ones, on average). Enclosed “catios” and shored-up fences can allow cats to enjoy some outdoor time without being a threat to the local wildlife.

If you’re not ready to keep your cat inside, a good first step might be using a colorful collar cover like these from BirdsBeSafe, which makes the cat more visible to birds. Research shows that cats are less successful at hunting birds when wearing these collars.

What to do about windows

Collisions with glass kill another 600 million birds in the US annually. Some of these occur in commercial buildings, but if your home has large clear windows, you can help to prevent bird injuries and deaths this way, too.

Birds don’t fly into these windows because they’re stupid. During the daytime, the windows often reflect sky or trees. At night, migratory birds can be thrown off course by indoor lights that they see through windows, according to the Cornell lab of ornithology; even if they don’t hit the window that night, they may roost nearby and fly into the window in the daytime. They recommend watching out for large picture windows, and windows placed at right angles to each other (like on two sides of a corner of a building).

Breaking up the expanse of glass helps, Cornell says. You can do this with soap or tempera paint, or with decals (they don’t have to be hawk-shaped), gold with bird tape that creates translucent dot patterns on the glass. Screens or netting can work, too. That includes the regular insect screening that many house windows have anyway, as long as the screening is on the outside so it’s visible to birds. During migration seasons, keeping lights off can help with the lighting issue.

If you have the opportunity to upgrade, a sun shade or awning can block reflections on the glass. Vertical blinds are also good at deterring birds; just leave them half-open (but still visible from the outside) when you want more light in the room. External shutters can work as well, and are also energy-efficient.

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