The cabin is surrounded by windows overlooking the lake. Almost every morning, I look out the window and see something breathtaking. Since the majority of the windows face south, on sunny winter days tons of passive solar energy comes in and helps keep the cabin warm. The windows are great.
There's just one little problem.
We invite birds to feeders in the yard during the winter. And, well, you see where I'm going, birds flitting around everywhere, a ton of windows, there's bound to be a collision sooner or later.
Since we put up the feeders in early November, the majority of days have been cloudy and birds have been navigating to the feeders without incident. It's sunny days when the windows reflected the sky, clouds, trees and other environmental elements that birds are most prone to go pell-mell into the glass. And there must have been something in this morning's sunshine that had the backyard wildlife confused.
Late this morning, while I was working away at the computer, I thought I saw something hurl itself past one of the windows. When I went out to investigate I found Mr. Squirrel apparently trying to jump in through the window. He'd perched on the woodbox outside the front door and would jump at the window with his paws outstretched, hitting the glass above the windowsill, only to slide down the pane with a skitter, landing back on top of the wood box. "Come on," I thought. "I just filled up the feeders. Now you want a warm place to take a nap too?!"
Bemused, I headed back to work, but not ten minutes I heard: BAM!
Creeping back into the living room, I looked out the window and saw a smattering of feathers stuck to the outside glass of one pane. Knowing what I would see, but not really wanting to see it, I peered below the window. Sure enough, a stunned male hairy woodpecker lay on his back on the porch.
The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has a great article on why birds hit windows and how to make your windows safer for birds. They suggest placing stunned birds into a shoebox and letting them sit in the darkness for fifteen minute intervals.
I prefer not to handle wildlife any more than absolutely necessary, so I went a slightly different route with the woodpecker. A lady who volunteered at the museum this summer, who also has a cabin filled with windows, said she always covers stunned birds with a tea towel. It's the same principle as the shoebox: the darkness not only calms the birds, but also helps them orient themselves. (How would you feel if you were flying along and all of a sudden, BAM, you're on your back, apparently walking on the sky?) The tea towel is light enough that the birds still get plenty of air and won't be smother the bird. Where today's woodpecker landed, I could drape the towel over him without me or the towel touching him at all.
Fifteen minutes later, I went out and removed the tea towel. Sure enough the woodpecker had righted himself, but he lay hunched up, breathing heavily and blinking a lot. I left him for a while and when he showed no signs of flying off 20 minutes later, I decided to check on him. Once I got close to him, he took off like a bolt and flew off into a nearby grove of trees. Hopefully now he's just suffering a massive headache, but he may not be so lucky. Lots of birds die of internal bleeding even after they fly off.
The tea towel trick won't work for every bird who collides with a window, but it's a good way to lend a helping hand without interfering inappropriately.