If you’ve been looking up at the tops of the trees, or watching neighbourhood feeders, you’ve noticed the flitting of unfamiliar birds, newly arriving on their spring migration. Or if you’ve been walking around with open ears, you’ve heard the sweet call of the robins and almost-raucous regular trill of the red-winged blackbirds. Spring has arrived and it’s in full swing. And so we must hone our attention on our surroundings (not a hard task!), while for some us, work begins.
The expansion of urban habitat and housing and mirrored buildings means only one thing to birds: imminent danger. There are three things we all need to take responsibility to do for birds, and this message is so old now that NOT doing something about it is delinquent.
(I just found out that free-standing houses cause 50% of bird strike deaths. Big buildings the other 50%. Not 20:80 or something that seems “more reasonable.” Your house and my house is deadly.)
Do what? The Top Three things to do are in an Audubon article (Fall of 2015):
- Put decals, tape, strings, or another form of “frit” on your windows – all windows reflecting trees within 5 storeys of the ground! – so that birds can see them and avoid crashing;
- Turn off building lights at night, and
- SPEAK UP about this to everyone who will listen, but building managers and city councils, especially!
I’ve written about bird crashes and the resources to prevent them before, and it’s also happened to me (this story has a good ending, and it’s instructive on what to do if you have a little window-crasher). One even happened to me last week, though I’m persuaded that the little bird was startled and survived:
The actual detailed print of the bird against the window -– and I kid you not, I was at the window cleaning it from the inside within the past hour – showed distinct feather prints, spread out. So upon finding no body on the landing or in the bushes and ground below, I think that the little bird pulled back in flight, body-crashed, and flew away, surely a little worse for wear, but alive.
What that means, though, is I need to apply more WindowAlert UV liquid (easy to use, but not very effective for certain kinds of birds) to the window, and in time (and squirrels willing), apply Acopian Bird Saver strings. Quick tips for right now, for the spring migration and for apartment dwellers: make a grid of scotch tape, highlighter streaks, bar-of-soap streaks, even lipstick dots or post-it notes put into a 2″ spaced grid will help!
Another good trick to prevent crashes: bring your feeders much closer to the house (especially if you still fill them). I stopped filling the feeder by the back fence, but I kept the feeder that’s against the house wall – though my family of squirrels are completely convinced it’s there for them, as they pick out the peanuts and sunflower seeds.
The topic of bird crashes is depressing enough that I’m saving its necessary continuation further on down this blog post. If anyone needs help or resources in bird proofing their home, contact me. But as some birds are already nesting, I thought it would be happier and just as useful to temporarily change the topic to…
AKA, inadvertently kidnapping baby birds from their parents.
Many birds end up in wildlife rehabilitation centres like Le Nichoir because of people’s assumptions – thank Google if you’re reading this now because of it! – that a nest on the ground or a baby bird alone is in trouble.
It isn’t always so! You might be able to keep the babies with the parents and let them live normal birdy lives yet!
Also, do not worry about touching the baby bird and the nest if you have to (but they are not toys or a model for demonstration). Birds do not have a good sense of smell and they will not notice or reject their baby because you’ve handled it. It’s better to be safe than sorry means get that baby and nest into the safest and best – usually highest – spot available.
Here’s your cheatsheet:
There are TWO TYPES of baby birds: altricial, and precocial.
Altricial birds are helpless at time of hatching – they are naked, and need constant parental care. They cannot stand on their feet, they need to be in a nest. Their feathers come in as they grow.
Precocial birds are born with strong legs and covered in fluffy down, like chicks, ducks, and geese. They can feed themselves with guidance from mom and dad. They need their parents around to keep them safe, warm, and to learn how to be birds. These birds can more readily imprint on humans to their detriment, though. If you find them and keep them around, you can ruin them for living in the wild. For their own safety, it’s also illegal to domesticate a wild animal in Quebec and many other jurisdictions.
If you find an altricial baby bird, naked, look for the nest. If they are cold, warm them up and keep looking for the nest. If you cannot find the nest on the ground, in a bush, or in a tree, or if you cannot warm the baby up, call a wildlife rehabilitator for advice and arranging for intake.
If the altricial bird is a fledgling – that is, it has feathers now and a short tail, and can stand on its feet – first check that it’s not in the middle of a danger zone (street, parking lot, children’s playground). Then make sure there are no cats or dogs or other predators around (including unaware human beings, for example, or crows, unless it’s a baby crow). If the baby looks perky, that is, it isn’t injured, it’s just not able to fly yet. Stand back and observe. The parents will still be looking after it. Keep watching. After two hours pass with no interaction, call a wildlife rehabilitator and make a plan.
If it’s a precocial bird, check that it’s in a safe place, without predators around, and that it’s also perky-looking. Just like with an altricial nestling or fledgling, if it’s not perky or looks injured, call the rehab – but otherwise, make sure it’s safe, and start observing. The baby will probably be frantically peeping up a chorus! Here the issue is where are its parents? If you have a colleague or family member with you, one of you should go on a neighbourhood hunt for the rest of the family – babies can be waylaid during neighbourhood marches. If you cannot find the parents anywhere, call a wildlife rehabilitator and make a plan.
With permission, I may soon share a flowchart from Le Nichoir on the different situations to check before either leaving a bird alone or getting it to the rehabilitator, so check back here again soon!
Further research on bird fatalities
Audubon released an article that gives you an idea of the scope of danger birds face in their migrations south and back north again
Chatty birds put friends at risk in colliding with buildings – the context being, many birds call to each other while migrating. One that flies into danger will not be making a danger call until it’s too late!
This Website Collects Obituaries for Birds—Here’s Why You Should Use It (2016)
Portraits of Flight Gone Wrong (2015)
Back in 2008, it was estimated that 250,000 birds die by colliding with man-made structures in New York City each year; in North America, that figure falls somewhere between 300 million and 1 billion. Because reports are so scattered, a more precise estimate is difficult to pin down. “We have very little idea of what the actual number is,” said Darren Klem, a program and advocacy manager at New York City Audubon. In 2019, we have a much better idea – closer to 1 billion than 300 million!
Why I keep on telling you about it (and do it for 3/4 of the year):
If people would stop and think for a moment: if these were people, we are callously, almost mockingly, allowing a genocide. “Stupid birds.” But they are people to each other – birds are social and not stupid – and by protecting them, we protect habitat for so many other creatures as well. We need to all take 45 minutes for the easy job of marking our windows. We need to shut off sky-lighting and office building lights at night. We just need to stop ignorantly killing birds. And stop cats from killing birds. But cats are another story, for another day.