Every window matters. Every bird matters.


By Janette Niwa

Thud. It’s a horrible sound to hear at your window.

Every year in Ottawa, collisions with glass kill an estimated 250,000 birds. Given our love of windows and glass railings, that number grows to one billion in North America. The journal Science notes that the population of North American birds has dropped by almost 30 per cent since 1970. This is not sustainable.

People often say, “I haven’t had many birds hit my house,” yet the average single-family residence kills between one and 15 birds each year. Residences, of which there are more than 400,000 in Ottawa, are responsible for 44 per cent of collisions. Often, we’re not home to hear it, the bird remains are scavenged by squirrels, cats or other wildlife, or we simply don’t notice the small, feathered body in the bushes.

Safe Wings Ottawa, an initiative of the Ottawa Field Naturalists’ Club, is working to make Ottawa safer for birds, and we need everyone’s help. So, what can you do? A lot!

Two key areas where everyone can make a difference are (1) rescuing birds who collide with windows and transporting them to a rehabber; and (2) using bird-friendly glass or applying markers to windows and glass railings.

Rescuing birds

“The bird flew away – I’m sure it’s fine.” But just like when a 90-kilogram hockey player hits the boards headfirst, an 11-gram Black-capped chickadee needs care after hitting glass – and the chickadee, flying at 20 kilometres an hour, wasn’t wearing a helmet! Almost all birds who hit glass are concussed, and most suffer internal injuries such as brain bleeds, impaired vision and severe bruising. Those that fly away often die later, become easy prey, or starve because they cannot forage for food.

Act quickly and scoop up the bird  with your hands or a tea towel, place it gently in an unwaxed paper bag folded and sealed with a paper clip or in a closed box with a few small holes. Then call Safe Wings at 613-216-8999. Don’t give it food or water, and keep it in a warm, dark, quiet place until it can be brought to a rehabber. Even if you think it has recovered, don’t release it. If the bird is dead, place it in a sealed plastic bag, keep it in a cool place (the freezer is perfect and perfectly safe), and contact Safe Wings. Help us collect data by completing a report at safewings.ca/found-a-bird/report-a-bird-collision/.

Making glass visible

Birds don’t understand glass. When they see trees reflected in a window, they perceive a safe haven; when they see plants inside your home, they perceive a potential hiding spot; and when they see sky through a glass walkway, they think it’s somewhere to fly. Instead, they hit the glass.

There are many ways to make your windows visible to birds – install Feather Friendly, use an oil-based marker to draw designs, install a vinyl pattern, hang Acopian bird savers or paracord, use external screens or build and renovate using bird-friendly glass. The four key elements for window markers are:

Install the markers on the exterior of the glass to cut reflections

Ensure the markers are five cm apart horizontally and vertically

Ensure the markers are 6 mm in size/diameter

Ensure high contrast between glass and markers

Additional actions can be helpful, like closing curtains, turning lights off at night, moving plants away from windows and keeping bird feeders and baths within 50 cm of windows or else more than nine metres away. Note that widely spaced decals, UV treatments and owl statues do not work. See safewings.ca/small-scale-solutions/ for more solutions.


We’re making progress!

The City of Ottawa and the National Capital Commission have published their Bird-Safe Design Guidelines, and the federal government is developing theirs. Easy to use treatments such as Feather Friendly are available from Safe Wings, online and from retailers such as Wild Birds Unlimited and Lee Valley. We all need to do more. Updates to the provincial and national building codes would be ideal, requiring all new builds and retrofits across Canada to follow bird-safe standards, not just guidelines. Everyone can email their elected politicians to request these changes. Many voices amplify the message!

Want to do more? Volunteer with Safe Wings Ottawa – we can always use more drivers, phone agents and building monitors. Don’t hesitate to call us if you need advice or help for a bird in distress!

Janette Niwa is a volunteer with Safe Wings Ottawa and an animal and nature lover.

photo: Karen Christina Young

Northern Saw-whet owl in rehab

Photo: Christina Huppé

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