Birds and their battles with reflections

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bluebird at the window
Tami Gingrich was visited by a male eastern bluebird who attacked her windows for nearly two years during breeding season. (Tami Gingrich photo)

My husband and I recently went out to lunch at our favorite restaurant, a historic inn surrounded by big old trees and blooming shrubs. We barely had time to place our order when I heard a commotion. At a nearby window, a female cardinal was banging repeatedly at the glass. Perched on the limb of a nearby bush, she would launch herself, feet first, while using her wings to frantically beat at the barrier. Over-and-over she did this, and it gave me a headache just watching her. I couldn’t help but eavesdrop on the comments coming from the surrounding tables of guests. “Oh, look at that bird! It wants in!” and “That poor bird, it’s so confused.” And “It’s gonna kill itself doing that!” I smiled to myself as the waitress tried apologetically to explain to her charges what was really happening.

I’m willing to bet that most of my audience here has witnessed this type of bird activity at some point in their lives. During my tenure at the park, I fielded dozens of phone calls over the years from the public, begging me for advice for a quick fix to this annoying behavior. I have come to the conclusion that simply having the virtue of patience is the only thing that prevails. Unfortunately, it’s not the remedy that most people want to hear.

Reflections

blueblird battling car mirror
The male bluebird that battled his own reflection in Tami Gingrich’s windows didn’t stop with just the house. He also battled his reflection in the windows and side mirrors of her vehicle. (Tami Gingrich photo)

So why do some birds exhibit this disturbing conduct? First of all, it usually falls within the species’ breeding season. This could occur from early spring through mid-summer. Secondly, it is usually demonstrated by male birds. As the boys begin to iron out their territories and commence the task of attracting a mate, they don’t take too kindly to competition. Thus, when they see another male in their space, their reflection in the glass, they react violently. In an effort to oust the intruder, they fly at their challenger in a battle that will persevere until this particular phase of reproduction begins to wane. This behavior rarely ends in the death of the bird because they are battling at close range and not flying through their habitat, crashing into a window that reflects an extension of the environment.

Females, too, will battle their reflection, as was the case with the cardinal at the restaurant. As she fought the “other” bird, she returned often to a limb right next to the glass. It was obvious that this shrub that butted up against the building held her nest and eggs and she wasn’t taking too kindly to another female sharing her nesting space.

Antidotes

bluebird at the window
One of the least expensive fixes for birds attacking windows is to try covering windows with curtains or by closing blinds. (Tami Gingrich photo)

Obviously, hearing a constant banging noise can really fray one’s nerves. Seeing the bird performing this needless act is even more stressful. So just what can we do? There are numerous antidotes on the market, some more effective than others, but sadly, none are foolproof. Basically, the more money you are willing to spend, the more success you will achieve.

Start by simply relocating your feeders and birdbaths a minimum of 30 feet away from the area with the reflections. One of the least expensive fixes is to try covering the window with curtains or by closing blinds. You can also hang a towel or sheet behind the glass. This can help diffuse the reflection, depending upon the time of day and lighting outside. Often, however, the bird will simply move on to a different window of the house.

Making the area around the window a distracting, intimidating place can be achieved by placing things nearby that move. Try hanging aluminum pie pans that bang around in the breeze or wind chimes that will aid in frightening the bird from the locale.

An inexpensive, somewhat effective method is to apply decals or reflective strips of tape or strings on the outside of the window. Placing them within a few inches of each other helps to break up the reflection, making it harder for the bird to see a complete likeness of itself. Make sure that some of these decals mimic the shape of predators such as hawks or owls. Birds recognize these silhouettes and will avoid the area around them.

If you are willing to put forth more time and effort, installing exterior screens over the outside of the windows will not only mask the reflection, they will also prevent birds from hitting the glass. If you decided upon this method, make sure that the mesh is small enough that the bird won’t get its head stuck or end up trapped between the window and the screen.

There is an anti-reflective window film available that can be placed on the glass or, if money is not an object, you can invest in the new technology of glass whose reflective surface has been diffused and eliminated by etching or frosting.

Patience is key

bluebird battling window
As male birds begin to iron out their territories and commence the task of attracting a mate, they don’t take too kindly to competition during breeding season, which can lead to window battles. (Tami Gingrich photo)

There are several species of birds that regularly fight their reflections, notably robins, cardinals, towhees and a couple species of sparrows. Yet, our most irritating experience with this behavior happened with a male eastern bluebird, and it lasted for two years throughout its breeding seasons. We love our bluebirds, don’t get me wrong, but the tenacity of this male had us all crazy, including our dogs. Not only did he visit practically every window of our house, but he spent hours on our vehicles, battling his reflection in the side mirrors. To make matters worse, he would defecate constantly, coating the cars with streams of whitewash which had to be washed off daily. Covering the windows in our house or moving the vehicles to different locations on our farm made little difference. We were so relieved to see him go after rearing 2 broods in our box during the first year. The next year, we couldn’t believe it when, there he was, back again at his shenanigans. Although we maintain several successful bluebird boxes on our property, we had never experienced this behavior from a bluebird and hopefully, never will again.

Spring is a difficult time for wildlife, as it is the time of year that they must work so hard to propagate their species. When a bird is battling its reflection, it is completely stressed out and deploying all of its energy in order to achieve breeding success. It is not performing this behavior to annoy you. Over the years we have learned to practice the virtue of patience, because we know that eventually, the behavior will end, and parental duties will kick in. It is the price we all pay for keeping wildlife close. If nothing else, it certainly gives new meaning to the term “watchable wildlife.”

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4 COMMENTS

  1. Is not so much their reflections. It is the spiderwebs in the courier of windows. This birds are carnivorous, they careless for seeds or not so much. I have watch the same couple for 5 years. They never bother me picking on the window, until they discover spiders in the corners of my window.

  2. Oh my gosh – my parents have this problem on their home. We tried so many different things to minimize the birds doing this. Worst part is fearing they will hurt their beaks! I had put the elastic bowl covers on my car mirrors because they would cover my mirrors with scratches and bird feces. Birds are wonderful but can come with issues. Great article!

  3. Took out a withered old Holly Bush, an INDIGO BUNTING male had battled itself for years at nesting time. Only this morning at waking did I recall the bunting’s mating behavior over the years. This article is the 1st thing that came on my news. Relief that it can go on without the struggle with himself. THANX!

  4. I vacationed in Currituck, N.C. one year in a place on the water. The next door neighbors had a male cardinal that was attacking the outside rear view mirrors on their car. They had to cover them with plastic bags to stop it. Where I live I try to leave ground cover and do not cut branches at the bottom of trees. This helps provide more nesting spaces as well as protection from predators.

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