Update: Since this was originally posted, Jeff Acopian kindly pointed out some inaccuracies. His family actually started looking into protecting birds from window strikes in the 1980’s. You can read more on the Birdsavers website.
Also, the American Bird Conservancy has just launched an appeal for help with spreading the word about their own ratings and endorsements for good products for homeowners and commercial buildings. A few of the products below are included. I hope you will consider a donation to help the cause!
Due to a recent upheaval in living arrangements, there’s been a dearth of posts here on Gopher Valley Journal. We retired and moved form the big City Up North to Gopher Valley permanently, and we couldn’t be happier. In the process we replaced our old double wide, aka manufactured home with a new one (also made in a factory). It is a fully eco rated Energystar® model with efficient water fixtures and lots of insulation. It also has beautiful windows and lots of light. These windows are super energy efficient but are also more reflective (think mirrors) than any other window. I knew there would be some work to do when I saw the plans and those beautiful windows.
We had sliding glass doors on a porch in the old place, and more than once birds slammed into them, prompting me to do a lot of research on birds and windows. At the time, the easiest remedy was to paint some vertical stripes with tempera paint on the glass. As funky as it looked, it worked out well and in fact they are still on one set of doors we re-purposed for an art studio. But what about the pristine and, frankly, fancy looking new ones? There was a lot more glass, and even before we moved in, bird-shaped collision marks started to appear.
The good news (well kind of): in his newest book Subirdia, Professor John Marzluff (from whom I took one of the best classes of my second undergraduate career) relates that cats are by far the biggest human-assisted killers of birds. Way more than windows. 1.4 to 3.7 billion birds are expected to die by cat in the lower 48 alone. Every year. Please, please keep your cat indoors. Please. Helpful info at the link.
The bad news: windows are the second biggest cause of bird fatality around homes. Somewhere between 250 million and almost 1 billion birds smack into glass every year, in the U.S. alone. Skyscrapers are responsible for only a fraction of that, with residences and shorter multistory buildings the worst.
What to do?? I went back to the internet for an update. Researchers have helpfully measured the exact dimensions of products that help birds see glass and avoid death and injury that I used for my previous fix. And, there are also some cool new ideas out there. I got a few more tips from the Mid-Valley Birders listserve.
Here below are the results of my search and (trial and error) product testing.
1. External screening by http://www.birdscreen.com/. Thanks to a couple of rave reviews on the birdlist I sent away for a trial amount of this flexible fabric-like screen to try on a variety of window sizes and shapes. I ended up cutting some down to fit on smaller windows that were particularly popular targets for bird strikes. This made the suction cup application a little clunky looking but the ease of installation and modification was a plus. Extremely effective and seems to be holding up to the weather, although the pipe insulation recommended to weigh the bottom down is getting fried on the hot south side. It is as see-through as a window screen. I opted for the attachment method that does not involve drilling into the siding, and it’s only useful for windows that are not on our sliding glass doors. Economical and user friendly. It can be ordered in custom sizes.
Treatments above rely on a weight at the bottom. You can also attach the bottom to the window with suction cups but I ended up using all of those for the multiple smaller pieces I modified from the kit. Here are the smaller window treatments. These were particularly lethal windows, and we have not had problems since adding the external screens.
2. ABC BirdTape. Sold directly by the American Bird Conservancy, this product is economical and easy to apply. It comes as a roll of tape or wider squares. You can also get long rolls of uncut wide tape. These are all designed according to research that indicates that vertical or horizontal striping or squares of a specific width and distance apart, will help birds see a window, or avoid crashing. The minimum spacing for the stripes is important: 2″ horizontally or 4″ vertically. The tape turned out to be just the thing for the expanse of glass used on our deck panels. If you’re careful, it can be repositioned if you make a mistake, and if you goof up it is not too expensive to discard the piece you have and start over. The product is translucent, so you cannot actually see through it, but it has been fine visually. Visitors often think the glass came that way, and if I had it to do over I would have it frosted like this.
3. Acopian BirdSavers. Another outfit that sells a product they invented just for bird protection. Their product is made from parachute cord. This product saved us and the birds. It is by far the easiest to apply, and if you want to save money, the website offers instructions on how to make your own. It has the advantages of simplicity and minimal things to go wrong, plus it is low profile. With the amount of glass we had to cover, this was the most satisfactory. Update: A few of these stopped adhering to the siding, and since I did not want to drill into our new siding I used suction cups on a couple of windows, and on others a magnetic strip with holes drilled to hold the strings tucked behind a window flange. I am told by the company that they also offer a permanent attachment bracket that has small screws to mount a bracket which looks very satisfactory in the photos on their website.
Here is how it looks on arrival. I measured my windows and gave them the dimensions to make each one for me (essentially cutting to size and tying the knots) so all I had to do was attach them. They are suspended from a header cord attached to pieces of aluminum with heavy double stick tape on the back. The green color blends in well.Installed, they are effective and low profile. Although they look a bit dark in the photo looking outside, the contrast is not that harsh. The attachment detail can be seen on the product website. Although they mention attachment problems in some applications, we have had very little need to re-attach. When it really gets busy at the feeders, sometime birds perch on the cords for a few seconds!
4. CollidEscape This product seemed like a great idea. It is a mesh adhesive. It was quite pricey even for some samples but I thought it might look better so I tried a few; clear for the deck panels, grey and green to match the siding. The material comes in thick, very adhesive sheets that can be ordered to size, and they will color match for you. It also comes in patterns. I was told it is the material that is applied to buses for advertising. How they get those huge pieces on a bus is beyond me.
The colored film is nearly opaque from the outside, and pretty see-through from inside, although not as transparent as any of the other materials I used, probably because the colored sheets are black on the side that adheres to the glass, plus the holes of the mesh are dense.
If I was an experienced applicator or had an extra person or two to assist it might have been easier. I tried using the methods suggested, but it was a teeth-grinding experience on a hot day. In the end I removed the clear piece I had on the deck because it wasn’t very attractive. I think these photos actually make it look better. To me it just made things look out of focus and did not enhance the glass like the BirdTape.
In any case, after my first experience, I tried cutting one piece into the dimensions of the bird tape and applying it according to those specs. After a couple of months I decided it was too distracting and took it off.
The one application that seems to work is a couple of windows where I got it on evenly and it blended in well. On the south side of the house (left) it helps keep the house cooler by reflecting the heat and sun. On a small bedroom window (right) the reduced light is minor. The color match is quite good.
See below the difference between CollidEscape film and bird netting (left) and the film and BirdSavers cord (right) looking from the inside.
These examples show that different solutions work in different areas. The main thing is to do everything possible to protect the wildlife we life with whenever we can.
Because we know better, all buildings must take into account their surroundings. Green buildings can’t be green unless they include bird protection in their design. On the positive side:
- Some cities have laws about what kind of glass can be used in commercial buildings with birds in mind.
- Bird-friendly glass does exist.
- Retrofitting is always an option, as I hope I’ve demonstrated, and not only for new construction.
- It is really great that LEED building certification includes not only glass specifications but interior and exterior lighting standards for bird protection.
- Lighting! a whole other story that you can read about in John Marzluff’s great book and also here.