Posted by: Anne Murray | October 23, 2013

Protect migratory songbirds from windows and cats

Varied Thrush

Varied Thrush

 The Varied Thrush likes the cool, dark understorey of the forest. It is vulnerable to injury and death when in an unfamiliar urban location with glass windows. 

Fall is a dangerous time for songbirds. Heading south to escape the approaching winter, many fly at night and use daylight hours for feeding and resting. When stormy, wet weather disrupts their journey, hungry birds descend like a gaggle of tourists. Unfamiliar with their immediate surroundings, eagerly looking for berries and insects on which to feed, they form noisy, fluttering, excited groups, easily distracted by a passing hawk or a bounding dog. Landing on bird feeders, fruit trees and lawns they are prone to fly up suddenly, making window collisions a frequent occurrence at this time of year. Window alignment or the reflection of sky and trees may mislead birds into seeing an escape route. Thrushes, sparrows, warblers and flickers (a large woodpecker) are often the victims of collisions. The beautiful varied thrush, with its high pitched, eerie whistle and love of dark forests, is seemingly unable to distinguish panes of glass.

 A cat on the loose can also be a huge danger to migrating birds. Hunting is in a cat’s genes so it has a natural interest in birds and small mammals. Chickadees, nuthatches and juncos are at risk when lively cats grab them off a low-hanging branch or feeder. Whole families of chickadees can perish with one enthusiastic cat on the prowl. Song sparrows and wrens feeding on the ground are particularly easy prey.  A new study by Environment Canada reveals that a whopping 196 million birds are killed in Canada by domestic and feral cats. A further 25 million die in window collisions. These are significant and avoidable contributions to bird population declines.

 We can take action to reduce this upsettingly high death rate. Bird feeders should be placed either at a distance, or very close to house windows, so that a startled bird does not fly up and into glass. Transparent, ultraviolet, leaf-shape decals, sold at wild bird stores, make windows more visible to birds, which can see UV light. The transparent decals have been shown to be much more effective than the old-style, hawk-shaped, black ones, and are almost invisible from indoors. They need replacing every couple of the years, but are a relatively cheap investment. An option for new construction is bird-friendly glass, notably “Ornilux”, designed by the Audubon Society and Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Germany. It is already in use in the lower mainland, at the concession building at CentennialBeach, in BoundaryBayRegionalPark.

 To prevent bird kills by cats, some owners have switched without problems to keeping their pet indoors. A fully-netted, accessible outdoor area is an option for others. Where cats roam free, bird feeders should be hung out of reach of a leaping cat or else removed completely. Such solutions are needed to maintain a bird-friendly neighbourhood and put an end to songbird declines.



  1. It may be time for Delta to complete a Multi-Hazard Mitigation Plan so that residents and industry can come together and quantify the true level of threat posed by natural and technological hazards.

    Restricting development in high hazard areas is the responsibility of local government, as no other entity had the legal authority to do this.

    If the local government wants to create more housing, then structural mitigation elements (e.g. buildings on stilts, off grid energy sources, etc) could be a requirement for new developments. Further, an emergency response levee (cost charge) could be used as a way to ensure residents and developers who choose to live in harms way, will not burden the rest of tax payers for their rescue and post-disaster flooding assistance.
    This would also mean that new residents may have to sign a declaration of their understanding of the level of threat and allow a clear discussion with insurance providers as to the precise level of coverage and deductible costs for residents in this new development.

    Until BC really gets serious about hazard mitigation, we will have these common sense discussions in every comminuty.

    It may be time for the good people of Delta, Surrey and Metro-Vancouver to ask their elected officials, “When are we going to create adequate Multi-Hazard Disaster Mitigation Plans”. This would be drastic and a shock to may, but so far I am scared that the majority of BC residents who believe that someone, somewhere is already doing this kind of pro-active work. As a practitioner for over a decade in the area of disaster research and response, I must say that my recent research demonstrates that no hazards are being addressed in current comprehensive planning efforts. In other words Official Community Plans do not address hazard threats, including the effects of climate change.

    I am a UBC Researcher in planning (MSc) and hold a BSc in Emergency Administration and Disaster Planning. I have been called from BC to help the Louisiana Governor’s Office post-Katrina and have worked as the State of Florida’s lead mitigation planner after the 2004 hurricane season. My recent work on BC First Nations shows that no hazards are being addressed in comprehensive plans and I would not be surprised if this is also true for all BC communities.

    Alberta is a good example of what can happen when you do not perform multi-hazard mitigation planning, as they are having to spend $930,000 per day for disasters. BC is not far behind at current estimates of $184,000 per day. Ask your MLA what kind of strategy the province has to addres these costs.

    I can be reached at, and would be open to speak to you or any other interested people about the current opportuities to safeguard our homes and communities from the threats we face.

    Thank you,

    Gordon Redmond

  2. Thanks for your comment Gordon, it is an interesting perspective.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: