How often have you heard a statement like this: “That _______(fill in the blank- “stupid” , “idiot”, “crazy”, “annoying”, “pretty”, or “beautiful”) bird is _______ (fill in the blank – “hitting”, “pecking at”, “flying into” or “crashed into”) our ________ (fill in the blank – “picture window”, “kitchen window”, “car window/bumper”, “truck mirror”, or “skyscraper window”) again.” ? Yes, sometimes it does seem that birds have a death wish.
WHY? All birds are territorial. When they find an appropriate place to fill all their basic needs; food, shelter, water, and a place to raise their young; they defend it to prevent competitors from taking it away from them. This becomes particularly true as birds prepare for breeding season when choice nesting sites may be in short supply, or in winter time when food sources become critical, or during migration when birds are rushing to be the first on the breeding grounds to select prime locations.
Birds, unlike humans, have not evolved with mirrors or other reflective surfaces in their evolutionary history. Consequently, their own reflected image becomes a competitor that must be driven away. Or that large expanse of reflected sky in a skyscraper, or reflected expanse of trees in a picture window, looks inviting for safe passage, or even escape from a predator. Certainly birds must see their own reflection in pools of water, as reflected bird images are cherished opportunities for bird photographers. But water reflections are in the birds DNA background as they have undoubtedly learned that all they achieve by driving away such a competitor is a wet head. Also, the water reflection is always a challenger that is below them so they always have an automatic position advantage in the confrontation.
The most competitive times for birds are the breeding, migration and winter seasons, so those are the seasons when one is most likely to see a bird attacking its own image. Robins, Cardinals and Mockingbirds are all species quite comfortable living close to humans, which explains why they may very much want to defend the shrubbery around your home from the challenger in your windows. But woodpeckers, Bluebirds and even Turkeys engage in this behavior, and hundreds of species fly into reflective windows on migration.
Recently, while waiting to depart on the Painted Bunting field trip, the participants were treated to a Pileated Woodpecker attack on a car in the Home Depot parking lot. The poor bird was confronted with two intruders: one on the driver’s side window and a second one in the driver’s side mirror. The poor bird didn’t know which one to attack first. Several years ago, Jewel and I experienced a Wild Turkey that attacked our Pennsylvania home ground level picture window, as well as the shiny hubcaps on our car, and strutted his stuff all fanned out to drive away his rival. It was quite a sight to see.
How to stop these attacks? Tape a shiny plastic spinning wheel along with some shiny Mylar streamers from a party store to the window and let them spin and wave in the breeze. And wait for the next season.