Northern saw-whet owl

The Teton Raptor Center recently rehabilitated and released this northern saw-whet owl following a window strike.

One of the major culprits of small bird injuries may be closer than you think.

“People in the Jackson Hole community love their big windows,” said Jessica Schonegg, the Teton Raptor Center’s acting rehabilitation director. “I don’t blame them, because there’s beautiful views. But the more windows you have and the cleaner they are, the easier it is for birds to miss the window when they’re hunting.”

Window strikes are one of the leading causes of admission for birds in the Teton Raptor Center’s rehabilitation program. Only a month into 2021, window collisions were the downfall of three birds the Teton Raptor Center rescued and released so far this year.

The first two birds were admitted to the center Jan. 4. One, a northern pygmy owl, was probably on the hunt for a songbird when it hit a backyard window, Teton Raptor Center Avian Care Director Meghan Warren said. The second bird, a sharp-shinned hawk, hit a window at St. John’s Health. Both birds arrived in a “subdued” state, exhibiting symptoms of a minor concussion.

“We brought them both in and evaluated their eyes, coracoid — which is a bone similar to our collarbone — and their neurologic symptoms,” Warren said.

The evaluation was necessary, as window strikes often result in blunt force trauma to the head, eye trauma and fractured bones and beaks. Fortunately, none of the birds sustained major injuries. After one night in the oxygen chamber the raptors were exhibiting normal behavior and released the next day.

The center’s most recent rescue, a northern saw-whet owl, experienced a similarly brief recovery. On Feb. 5, a man in the Jackson area heard the bird “thunk” against his window and went outside to find the stunned owl on the ground. He then scooped the bird of prey, measuring 5 to 6 inches tall, into a cardboard box and delivered it to the Teton Raptor Center.

“By the time they got to us, the owl had definitely perked up a fair bit,” Schonegg said. “When I opened the box to get him out, he immediately looked up at me and tried to jump out.”

The owl’s energy was a reassuring sign of recovery, Schonegg said, but the center kept him overnight to ensure no other symptoms surfaced.

“The next morning he was the same,” Schonegg said. “We gave him a mouse and he ate the whole thing, which is also a good sign they’re feeling well.”

At dusk the owl was released back at the area where he came from.

A bald eagle made the news a year ago in January when it crashed through a window in Hoback. At 30 years old the male bird was one of the oldest eagles discovered in the wild, and Raptor Center experts attributed lead poisoning as one of the reasons for his crash. He was released back into the wild a month later.

Houses built near clusters of trees can be particularly hazardous to birds because forests are a natural habitat for the creatures, Schonegg said. However, there are things homeowners can do to lessen the danger for raptors and other birds.

“If you’re designing a house, you can try to design it so your windows are away from the side of your house that is covered by a lot of trees,” Schonegg said.

Products like window decals and UV liquids are also available to prevent bird collisions.

Decals act as stickers that help make windows more noticeable, and come in various shapes and styles. They must be installed on the outside of the window in order to be effective.

UV liquids — which are more expensive — are less discernible to the human eye but still remain apparent to birds, who can detect ultraviolet light.

Paints, tape, screens and netting all serve a similar purpose. When placed on the outside of windows, they deter birds from flying toward those windows because the birds see the objects on the window as solid and impassible.

According to the American Bird Conservancy, window spacing is crucial. Two-inch spacing between stripes, dots and decals must be maintained to successfully ward off birds.

For those who would like to avoid window patterns, one-way transparent film might be useful. The film allows people at home to look outdoors, but makes the window appear opaque to the external world. Such an option reduces the amount of light that comes into the house, which could also reduce cooling costs.

Considering the distance between windows and bird feeders can also help, Warren said.

The American Bird Conservancy warns on their website that "dangers exist for birds year-round, especially glass near bird feeders and bird baths."

AllAboutBirds.org, which is part of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, also suggests placing feeders closer than 3 feet or farther than 30 feet from windows.

Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada wrote in an email to the News&Guide that if a feeder is far away but still reflected in a window, a bird can "build up momentum in flying from the actual feeder to the perceived one (the reflected one they just left)." So FLAP suggests placing feeders 1.5 feet or less from windows to greatly reduce a bird's speed and thus ensure a "less disastrous" outcome should the bird fly into the window. 

More bird conservation tips are available on the Teton Raptor Center’s website.

This article has been updated to clarify recommended placements for bird feeders to reduce risks to birds. — Eds.

Contact Victoria Lee at 732-5901 or vlee@jhnewsandguide.com.

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