Making Windows Safer for Birds

by John Bloomfield

In his 2021 book, A Season on the Wind, Kenn Kaufman describes the journey of a migratory bird as a feat that defies all imagination. In the space of a few weeks, these birds can fly thousands of miles, “navigating through heat and storm, stopping over in a dozen alien lands, evading countless dangers, pushing on with single-minded purpose” to reach their breeding grounds in the north. Hazards lie everywhere.

Cedar Waxwings are not thought of as long-distance travelers, but migratory surges do exist, with birds traveling from Costa Rica and Panama into northern Canada. Like many birds, waxwings suffer from collisions with cellular and electrical towers and, because they are attracted to fruits and berries, they also perish from automobile collisions when individuals feed on fruits near roadways, and window strikes when fruiting plants are located near glass.

A few years ago, the staff at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center noticed a number of Cedar Waxwing deaths where its Great Hall overlooks the surrounding meadow. They soon discovered that the birds were being attracted to nearby Yaupon Holly and Possumhaw trees and were likely being killed when coming into feed.

“This was alarming to us,” said Andrea DeLong-Amaya, the center’s director of horticulture. “We want the center to be welcoming to wildlife, and where a hazard exists, we want to do something about it.”

One of the windows at the Wildflower Center that received the film.

The Center sought the advice of Travis Audubon volunteer Jane Tillman, who has led bird walks at the center and taught classes on plants for birds and backyard birding. After considering a number of remedies, the Center decided to work with Shades of Texas and opted to have a window film with horizontal striping installed on the windows that were creating the biggest concern. Those that received the film face the café and Observation Tower where the large Possumhaw is found. The film can be seen from the outside but is not noticeable to visitors when looking out the window.

“The film has resolved the issues we were experiencing,” Andrea said, “so we are extremely gratified with the results, which are consistent with our desire to be a haven not just for plants but for all ecology.”

When it comes to conservation, small victories add up to large scale success. While the Wildflower Center is an example for large organizations, Travis Audubon volunteer Laurie Foss and board member Christy Esmahan offer some practical advice for people looking to make their household windows more bird safe.

Laurie went to the American Bird Conservancy’s resource page on preventing collisions and learned about Acopian Bird Savers, otherwise known as Zen Wind Curtains, small vertical cords which you can make or buy for installation on the outside of windows.

Zen Wind Curtains on Laurie’s windows.

“I put these over a big picture window that looked out on a set of bird feeders,” recalled Laurie. “They were super easy to install and were highly effective. After a while I barely noticed they were even on the windows. What’s more, they did not interfere with my enjoyment of watching and photographing birds from this beautiful window.”

She added:  “A nice side benefit for me was that every time there was a storm the birds would perch on the cords; they were stable and under cover. Painted Buntings seemed especially fond of them.”

Christy’s actions included installing a Zen Curtain made of colored beads on the inside of her condominium windows, applying decorative ultraviolet stickers to the windows and moving her house plants at least five feet back from her windows. She also recommends turning off lights and shutting curtains at night to keep light from leaking out, as well as installing motion detector lights outside to minimize the time bright lights need to be on.

The former chair of Travis Audubon’s Advocacy Committee, Christy and Executive Director Nicole Netherton have been working with city officials to determine ways of incorporating more bird-friendly green-building guidelines into the design of new buildings as well as ways to make the night skies safer for birds. In mid-April, the Travis County Commissioner Court voiced its support for Light Out, Texas, an important step in this ongoing dialogue.

“Up to one billion birds die each year from window collisions,” Christy said. “Combining action at a community level with the things we can do at home, we can save a lot of birds.”

See the following resources for more information on preventing window collisions:

American Bird Conservancy: How to Keep Birds from Hitting Windows

Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Making Your Windows Safer for Birds

Audubon Texas: Bird-friendly Buildings

Travis Audubon: Make Austin’s Buildings Bird Friendly