Migratory Songbirds at WildCare

It has been a busy past few weeks in WildCare’s Birdroom!

This Nashville Warbler was rescued by a whale-watching boat far out from the coast. He must have been blown off course.

Songbird migration seasons in the spring and the fall always bring an uptick of colorful Wildlife Hospital patients, but this year has been particularly busy.

Most of our current songbird patients are in our care because they flew into windows, giving themselves head trauma and other injuries. It’s truly heartbreaking to see a gorgeous warbler, thrush or other songbird, fat, healthy and ready to migrate, laid low by an avoidable accident. Scroll down for tips to make your yard safe for songbirds!

The Hermit Thrush in the video above arrived with head trauma, and our Medical Staff is concerned that she has damaged her vision. An eye exam with our veterinarian reveals no obvious issues with the physical eye, so nerve damage is the suspected cause of the bird’s problems. The decision is made to keep the bird in care to watch for improvement.

The Nashville Warbler in the photo to the upper left was captured on a whale-watching boat ten miles off the coast of Pt Reyes. He must have gotten blown off course during his migration and ended up way out to sea. Exhausted, he landed on the boat where caring rescuers captured him. Unfortunately, despite their best efforts, the bird had died by the time he arrived at WildCare, but the Townsend’s Warbler (top right) and the Common Yellowthroat (bottom right) both survived their window strikes and were able to be released after receiving emergency care at WildCare.

If a bird hits your window, often all he needs is a safe place to recover.

Place the bird in a shoe box (punch some holes in the lid before putting the bird in the box!) or even a paper shopping bag with a cloth or dish towel on the bottom to prevent the bird from slipping.

Secure the top of the box or the paper bag, and place the bird in a quiet, warm, predator-free place such as a bathroom or garage for 30 minutes to one hour. Then take the container back outside and open it. If the bird can escape and fly away, great! Congratulations on your rescue! If not, bring the bird to WildCare. Call our hotline first at 415-456-7283 to confirm hospital hours.

Traumatized songbirds that are admitted to the Wildlife Hospital are treated for shock with warmth, fluids and oxygen. When stable, patients receive a full exam to check for injuries, and they are given the appropriate diets to allow them to maintain the body weight they’ll need to migrate once they’re released. Click to donate now to help us heal the songbirds in our care!

Window strike. Photo by Brian Narelle

Mockingbird window strike. Photo by Brian Narelle

Any bird caught by a cat, however, needs immediate medical attention, as bacteria on cats’ teeth and claws are deadly to birds, even if the injuries inflicted are small. Always bring a bird caught by a cat to WildCare for treatment with antibiotics.

Did you know that windows and domestic cats are the number one killers of songbirds?

WildCare recommends keeping cats indoors for their safety and the safety of the birds and other wildlife. For more information on keeping your cat healthy and happy indoors, click here.

Window strikes can be reduced or prevented with the following steps:

Relocate your bird feeders

Position your bird feeders, birdbaths and other attractants half a meter (1.5 feet) or less from your windows.

From this short distance, birds cannot build up enough momentum to injure themselves should they hit your window. This may seem counterintuitive, but the closer the bird feeder to your window, the better for the birds and your viewing!

Placing feeders 30 or more feet away from windows will also help, if visual alerts are applied to the window.

Birds on feeder by Eric Tymstra

Songbirds at a feeder. Photo by Eric Tymstra

Give the birds visual alerts

The key is to provide birds with the visual cues they need to alert them to the presence of glass.

Visual markers on windows are the most effective collision reduction strategy when properly applied. Unfortunately, one or two stickers on a window aren’t effective. To properly alert birds, windows must be covered with a uniform pattern four inches apart for vertical alerts, and five inches apart for horizontal alerts.

A fun option recommended by WildCare’s Birdroom Manager Lucy Stevenot is WindowAlert’s UV Liquid. If properly applied, this liquid is virtually invisible to humans from inside the building, but birds can see it. Painted-on markings must be renewed every month or two, depending on your window and weather. You can even have fun with this! You or your kids can treat it as an art project and decorate the window with the marking applicator!

Products such as Acopian BirdSavers, CollidEscape and others (see the American Bird Conservatory website for an excellent list and the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) for additional great information) also provide visual alerts to songbirds to dramatically prevent window strikes. Always hang alerts on the exterior of the windows for best results.

Move houseplants

If you can see your houseplants from the outside of your home, then so can the birds. Birds perceive your houseplants as a possible perch or refuge. Moving your houseplants back from your windows lessens this attraction.

Close curtains and blinds

Close curtains and blinds to reduce the dangerous illusion of clear passage through windows, especially those that meet at corners, or where windows are situated in line with one another at the front and back of your home.Exterior window awnings can also help mute window reflection and help protect birds from the illusion of a clear passage.

Please consider these steps to make your yard safer for songbirds! So many of the injuries WildCare’s songbird patients suffer are entirely preventable. With your help, more migratory songbirds will survive their arduous migration to sing another day