How to help birds during fall migration

American redstart warbler

Every fall millions of migratory birds face an incredibly long journey from their breeding grounds around the Great Lakes to their wintering grounds in Central and South America. They must contend with unpredictable weather conditions, shrinking habitats and countless man-made obstacles to make the trip safely.

Migratory birds travel thousands of miles from early September to early October. They are adaptive, resilient and capable of the flight ahead; however, a little bit of effort on our part can help them on their way.

Make your windows stand out

It’s estimated that anywhere from 100 million to 1 billion birds a year die from impacts with clear reflective glass. 

Windows can be dangerous for a couple of reasons. When trees and the surrounding landscape are mirrored in the window, birds perceive it as more of the natural world. In other instances, when the glass is completely translucent birds just see the open space on the other side. Both instances can result in lethal impacts.

Fortunately, using decals, marking windows and covering windows with other media can prevent collisions.

Decals. Use many, not just a few, and place them so that the gaps between them aren’t any bigger than 2×4 inches.

Marking windows. Mark the outside of your windows with films, strips of translucent tape, tempera paints and UV stickers or liquid. The markings should be spaced no more than 4 inches apart vertically and no more than 2 inches apart horizontally over the entire window to deter small birds. That spacing should be reduced to a 2×2-inch grid if hummingbirds are a problem. Some products to consider include Collidescape, Solyx Films and Windowalert.

Other media. Screens, strings with beads, streamers or blinds can help deter collisions, too. Even dirty windows can reduce impacts.

Turn your lights off

Studies show that up to a million birds a year can die because of light pollution, according to the National Audubon Society.

Many birds migrate at night, using the stars and moon to guide them. However, artificial light can confuse and disorient migratory birds causing them to fly in the wrong direction, expend all of their energy flying in circles or injure themselves flying into buildings or windows.

Simply turning your lights off from dusk to dawn during migration can help birds navigate safely.

If you can’t completely turn your lights off, use warm white or yellow colored light bulbs, shield your light bulbs to direct light down and install motion sensors and timers to limit how frequently your lights are on. If you’re working indoors at night, close your blinds.

Make your yard more inviting

Due to habitat loss, birds have fewer places to rest during migration. Lawns and pavement don’t offer enough food and shelter for birds, but native gardens do. You can provide shelter, nesting areas and food sources by increasing the amount of space in your backyard that’s dedicated to native plant species.

You can also make your yard more inviting and avoid inadvertently harming migrating birds by not using pesticides. Birds can accidentally come into contact with pesticides by consuming contaminated seeds or insects. Additionally, pesticides reduce the number of insects available to birds as a food source.

Fortunately, if you grow native plant species, you shouldn’t need pesticides as they stand up better to pests and diseases.

Clean your bird feeder

Cleaning your bird feeder regularly can reduce the chance of disease transmission and illness caused by moldy seeds or an accumulation of droppings. This is especially true when a lot of birds are passing through around the same time.

Bird feeders should be cleaned at least once every two weeks and more often during heavy use and warm, damp conditions. Cornell Lab of Ornithology recommends scrubbing debris off feeders and then soaking them for 10 minutes in a diluted bleach solution. This is a more effective cleaning method for removing bacteria than soap and water.

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