How Can I Feed Birds Safely?

Ruby-throated Hummingbird. Photo: Raffaele Camasta

Millions of people across Canada feed wild birds as a way to enjoy nature and help birds. But did you know you might actually be putting your feathered friends’ lives in danger by doing so? Feeding birds is not without risks, and one major threat claims the lives of millions of birds every year: collisions with glass.

Research has suggested that the vast majority of window collisions across Canada happen at single family homes, and households that feed birds are more likely to have high rates of window collisions than those that don’t. Feeders attract birds closer to buildings, and as the number of birds in an area increases, so does the risk of a deadly collision. However, you can still feed birds while keeping them safe by making a few simple changes to your windows and feeder placement.

Make Windows Bird-Safe

Birds do not perceive glass as a solid object, and instead see the reflection of trees or sky or a clear pathway to where they want to go. Adding visual ‘noise’ to the surface of the glass helps birds recognize that the window is something they cannot fly through. Although a popular choice, a single traditional hawk silhouette is not an effective collision-deterrent. Many birds are adept at darting through dense vegetation and will simply attempt to go around the decal, colliding with another portion of untreated glass.

For window markers to be effective, it’s important that they follow these guidelines:

  • SPACING: Separate markers by no more than 5 x 5 cm (2 x 2 inches).
  • SURFACE: Apply markers to the outside surface of the glass.
  • CONTRAST: The markers should stand out in contrast to the transparent or reflective glass surface.
  • SIZE: A marker should be no less than 6 mm (1/4 inch) in diameter.
  • COVERAGE: Cover the entire glass surface.

Making your windows safer for birds doesn’t need to be expensive or complicated. For example, you can consider commercially available dot-treatments, use paint pens to create a unique design, or make your own Acopian BirdSavers. As an immediate quick fix, you can even take a bar of soap and draw patterns on the outside of the window.

Place Feeders in a Safe Spot

We also recommend moving feeders and other bird attractants like bird baths as close to your window as possible (within half a meter, or 1.5 feet). In the unfortunate situation that a bird still collides with the window, they will be less likely to build up enough momentum to seriously hurt themselves. Otherwise, consider relocating your feeder more than 10 metres or 30 feet away from the window to also reduce the risk of collisions.

Black-capped Chickadee. Photo: Paloma Plant

Feeding birds is a mutually rewarding experience. Bird lovers get to enjoy the antics of wild birds up close, while birds get to enjoy a reliable food source. By effectively treating your windows and optimizing your feeder placement, you can help birds stay safe while in your yard.