Tuesday, November 25, 2008
BIRDS AND WINDOWS DON'T MIX
The all-too-familiar thump came just as we finished breakfast. The muffled whap of another bird hitting a windowpane—this time the window two feet beyond the table. I only missed witnessing the collision because I was busy getting up and gathering my breakfast clutter. When I hurried outside, the victim was crumpled upside-down on the deck…a junco. I gently picked up the bird and saw it was injured but still alive—though thoroughly addled from its head-on encounter with the plate glass. I felt bad because I’d just refilled the seed feeders and scattered some cracked corn on the ground an hour or so earlier. Naturally, the birds flocked to the replenished eats like gangbusters—cardinals, chickadees, nuthatches, doves, titmice, and others; the usual post-dawn contingent. Downy and red-bellied woodpeckers were eagerly working the nearby suet cakes. Now, the little slate-backed, or dark-eyed junco, to give its proper name, was knocked out cold, and possibly wouldn’t. All I could do was hold it in my hand and hope that some warmth and time would help. The downside to having a cottage situated on a wooded riverbank is that there are always birds around—birds which regularly mistake a reflective window for a hole through the trees. Sometimes this error proves deadly. Of course, being lucky to live in an old stone cottage on a tree-lined riverbank, with a variety of birds coming and going, is a constant joy. Still, there’s no denying the cottage windows account for at least a half-dozen fatalities each year—though this represents only a fraction of the number of birds which slam against the window, often to the tune of several during a given day. Fortunately, most window-bird crashes aren’t serious—little more than a nasty surprise and lost feather or two. Then there are those which collide harder, enough so the impact stuns them for several moments, a few minutes, even an hour. Most of these casualties do seem to make it, given sufficient time. It required about half an hour for this morning’s junco to feel perky enough to fly away. I usually hold the stunned bird until I see some sign of it coming around, then place it on a windowsill where it can continue its recovery—sheltered a bit and handy for me to keep an eye on things in case a cat comes around. That’s what I did for a nuthatch back in the spring, and a white-throated sparrow last winter. What I truly hate to find are birds which are DOA by the time I retrieve them. Worse, fate always seems to dictate such fatalities either come from the ranks of my favorite species or those of uncommon visitors. During the past twelve months, for example, the window traps claimed a cardinal, a Carolina wren, a tree sparrow, and a cedar waxwing; the two atypical birds were a Swainson’s thrush and a northern waterthrush. If I could do anything about this ongoing situation I would. Changing the lighting inside the cottage doesn’t help. Neither does hanging stuff around the windows themselves. I could relocate the feeders farther away from the cottage, but besides making it impossible to birdwatch without resorting to the binoculars, I’m not really convinced it would make much difference. The reason for this conclusion is that during the summer, when the feeders are empty or only seldom visited, the muffled windowpane thumps continue unabated—as does the percentage of injured or deceased birds I find. Moreover, feeders at most nature centers, including an Audubon Center I frequent, are typically placed about the same distance from their buildings as mine are from the cottage. Alas, I’ve about decided a few dead birds are simply unavoidable collateral damage to multiple windows and a riverside cottage. Though I occasionally feel like one of those looter pirates who made a living luring ships onto the rocks by means of displaying false lights, I somewhat placate this guilt by reminding myself the Cooper’s hawk which swoops through the yard daily accounts for far more victims. And I do whatever I can to nurse the injured back to health so they can fly again another day…though hopefully, they’ll have learned their lesson about taking that shortcut through the window.