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Better protection for our birds

Occasional Observer

Several of recent studies tell us that American bird populations are declining and now are only half of what they were sixty years ago. Some experts say we’re losing nearly a billion birds each year just from birds colliding with windows!

While the accuracy of  the numbers related to bird counts might be questioned, still there is little doubt that populations have declined and continue to do so. What can we do to stem climate change in its various manifestations is a major cause of the decline although less so in the northeast United States than in many parts of the country where wildfires, crippling droughts, giant floods, and monster storms have become worse in recent years severely damaging both plant and animal population. Urbanization and land development have greatly reduced the amount of suitable habitat for most animals, including birds.

Even when the land is converted into farm fields it is seldom a happy change for birds.  And if crops are sprayed with pesticide, such land can become a killing field both for the birds and for the insects they feed on.

However, there are some measures that Northwest Corner residents could  take to improve the prospects for our avian friends. Perhaps the most obvious one would be to make one’s property a more amenable landscape for birds. Often this means relaxing the very manicured look and instead, having wilder, more varied planting with plenty of shrubs and wildflowers. And reducing the area of lawn; in some cases maybe letting it revert to wild grass that gets cut only annually (certain birds choose to nest and spawn in such areas).

Better than relying on bird feeders,  it would make sense to provide adequate plants on the property to feed resident birds throughout the year.

Even more significant is having a nearby source of clean drinking water. If no nearby lake, stream or other water  source exists, consider installing a small recirculating fountain.

Too often our roadsides are kept in an overly sterile condition. Three foot wide  strips of lawn between curb and sidewalk only create maintenance problems. Both for birds but even more for people, wider planted areas with a richer pallette of plant material including trees and shrubs wpuld be better .

Bird fanciers often insist that cats should be kept indoors unless on a leash (how often have you seen that?). No question, birds deserve our help. But cats are animals too, not just toys for people. They deserve to get outdoors, their natural home, at least some of the time.

Cat owners especially worried about their pets attacking birds might try outfitting them with collars with small bells attached that would warn birds.

With more people now working at home because of the pandemic, the sickening sound of a bird crashing into a window has became all too familiar. What should we do? The experts all now seem to agree that sticky clear plastic film with very thin lines or dots at close, regular intervals is a good deterrent to birds flying towards the window and crashing. But the material must be applied to the outside face of the window  to be effective.

Those who use hanging bird feeders have recommended locating them a few feet directly in front of the window that birds might fly into; usually they will slow down and stop before a collision occurs. However, the aesthetic of a bird feeder directly in front of one’s picture window might not suit most people.

And plastic film presents problems. The average homeowner may find it difficult if not impossible, even with ladders, to reach the right position to install the thin plastic sheet. A large window would require considerable expertise to install neatly.

A  typical house might have as many as two dozen windows and exterior doors.But a careful study of past bird collisions with a house will usually reveal that most of these collisions occurred in only one or a few spots. This knowledge should reduce plastic film installation to a more manageable task.

Popular taste and window manufacturing skills have made ultra clear window glazing both possible and popular. But some bird fanciers insist that dirty windows help dissuade birds from flying into them. Ugh!

A  partial solution to the collision problem is the old-fashioned screen window that is affixed outside of a sliding or swinging door or window. They do double duty, keeping out the bugs while preventing bird collisions and may help protect adjacent unscreened fixed windows as well.

It would be a sad world without birds. Let’s give them a little help.


Architect and landscape designer Mac Gordon lives in Lakeville.

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