Dazed and Confused!?! What to do about birds crashing into my windows?

On Friday, I received a call to the Master Gardener Volunteer Hotline from a local person.  They shared that they had a robin that had been attacking and hitting their house window since Easter weekend.  They wanted to know what to do. The customer shared that the bird was crashing into the so hard that it would sit in the yard dazed and confused. After some research, I would some related information from different Extension Experts.  I will share information from Chuck Otte, Geary County, Pennsylvania Extension Agent on an article he shared in 2020.

About this time of year is when we receive calls about birds attacking house windows. This is very different than the occasional bird flying into a window. We see that all winter long. Birds are startled and don’t realize that the reflection of the outdoors in the window is not a continuation of the outdoors. They fly right into it. Sometimes they fly right away, sometimes they fall to the ground stunned and sometimes they break their necks and never fly again. This is a big problem by the way. It’s estimated that 200 million birds die from window collisions in the USA and Canada annually. That’s a lot of birds but a drop in the bucket compared to the 2.6 billion that cats kill annually.

But the birds I receive calls about now just keep flying at the window. Or sometimes it may be a mirror on a vehicle parked at their house. I even had a new BBQ grill one time that a meadowlark just couldn’t stay away from. These crazy birds will obsessively fly at the window, flutter at it, peck at it, and often leave a whole lot of what we birders call “whitewash” all over the window or the side of the house. It’s annoying, it’s messy and it can be downright unnerving!

Quite frankly what we have here are raging hormones. To be specific, most often it is male birds. They don’t realize that the other bird is their reflection. They view it as a rival male, and he is invading MY territory. First thing in the morning he remembers that bird so goes to see if he is still there. Well yes, he is so I must chase him away. And so, it goes on and off all day long, for days on end sometimes for weeks.

The most common species that does this is Northern Cardinals, but I’ve seen robins, wrens, and meadowlarks do it too. I honestly think that male cardinals may be the most testosterone-crazed birds out there! It starts happening this time of year because rapidly lengthening minutes of daylight trigger hormones in most bird species, which prepares the females for egg laying and the males for finding mates. I think it happens regularly with cardinals because they tend to nest in shrubs very close to houses, so they are more likely to first encounter their image in the window reflection and once they do, it is all over.

First, no, they do not learn that it isn’t another bird so don’t even hope for that to occur. Secondly, cutouts of hawk silhouettes that you put on the inside of the windows won’t do any good. The reflection is seen in the outer portions of the windowpane. The only way to stop the bird is to cover up the window with just about anything. I’ve seen newspapers, cardboard, and thin plywood used. You may be able to put up some screening or netting and block enough of the reflection so the bird wouldn’t be seeing himself. If you are going to do this, the sooner you start the less time the bird will have to get this habit ingrained. I will say that for two or three years we had cardinals nesting in the holly bush outside our kitchen window. The outside of those windows had screens on them, and we never had problems with the cardinals attacking the windows.

The next question homeowners have is how long this behavior will last. Unfortunately, cardinals can have multiple broods through the summer, and it could last well into August in many years. Once they get started, they are liable to be at it all summer long. The activity may dwindle some when the parents are busy feeding the young but it’s liable to pick right back up when they start the second brood. Yes, it is annoying. No, you can’t shoot them as cardinals, like most all songbirds, are protected by federal law. The birds will stop eventually but until then……

Great information from a colleague in Extension.

For more information about home horticulture topics, visit the Paulding County Gardening and Horticulture Blog website at https://u.osu.edu/pauldingmgv or subscribe for email updates on topics like this. For additional information on any crop or horticulture topic, contact Sarah Noggle, Paulding County Extension Educator, Ag, and Natural Resources, at noggle.17@osu.edu. Individuals can also walk in the OSU Extension Office at 503 Fairground Drive, Paulding, or call (419)399-8225.

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