Animal Welfare: Preventing Bird Strikes

Stephanie Allard, Ph.D., is the director of animal welfare for the Detroit Zoological Society and oversees the Center for Zoo Animal Welfare.

Getting to see nature up close and personal Photo by Patti Truesdellis amazing – especially birds, which many of us are able to do from the comfort of our homes. I love to bird watch, and I have bird feeders at my house, as I’m sure many of you do. I enjoy seeing birds as they fly around, forage for food, interact with each other, and raise their young. We have bird feeders at the Detroit Zoo and Belle Isle Nature Zoo as well, which attract many airborne visitors.

We have to be vigilant, however, because we want to protect these incredible species as we invite them to join us in our outdoor spaces. Millions of birds are killed each year in the U.S. alone because of structures that are built by humans, and among the main culprits are windows. They let in light and they provide us with views, but they also confuse birds and create a very dangerous situation.

Humans and birds have very different visual systems, and what appears to us like a see-through barrier does not look that way to birds. The glass appears invisible to them and often acts as a reflective mirror. Because they can’t see the glass, birds will often fly into a window. This is a deadly phenomenon known as “bird strike”.

Photo by Patti TruesdellWindows are not a new threat for birds; however, this serious animal welfare and conservation issue does not get as much attention as it should. There are programs designed to bring attention to bird strikes and reduce the impact on birds, including the Lights Out program. There are also individuals who have devoted their careers and lives to the issue, such as Dr. Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithology professor from Muhlenberg College who spoke about his decades of work on this topic at the third International Symposium on Animal Welfare hosted by the Detroit Zoological Society and our Center for Zoo Animal Welfare in November of 2014.

The great news is that there are things we Photo by Jennie Millercan all do to help prevent birds from suffering. We can put up bird silhouettes on our windows (you will see many on the windows throughout the Zoo), or reflective tape. There is even special film and glass that can be installed that takes advantage of the fact that birds see in the ultraviolet range so that windows that seem clear to us are now seen by birds as real barriers. Photo by Jennie MillerIf you have bird feeders, don’t put them further away from your windows than 3 feet. This means that birds can come enjoy the food, but won’t gain enough momentum to harm themselves if they take off towards any windows. Use your blinds if you have them – this also lets birds know that they can’t fly through.

We truly have the ability to make a difference in the lives of individual birds that share the world with us, and in turn, help protect their species.

– Dr. Stephanie Allard

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