Tag Archives: birds hitting windows

Sparrow in the window

I was propped on pillows in bed writing yesterday’s blog post. My husband was in the backyard, bundled up and headed out to the back field and woods with the good old dog. Bang! Something hit the window.

“Bird strike!” I could hear him say.

I opened the window, leaned out, looked down and said, “Bring me the bird.”

bird glove

He bought me the bird. I stepped out on the back deck to see.

I’m not good with sparrow ID, but later we figured out was a White-throated Sparrow… probably one of the less boldly marked ones, known as “tan-striped,”

… with a buff-on-brown face pattern instead of white-on-black.

“Will it be okay?” he asked.

“I think so. It looks likes it’s all in one piece, just stunned. I will do what I’ve done with the other ones.”
white-throated sparrow

I brought it inside to warm up, and because I didn’t have a coat on and it was very cold outside. It was panting a little.

Winter is a bad time for bird strikes at our house, probably because the leaves are off the trees and there is more light and more reflection from the low angle of the sun. We have decals on the big south-side windows where strikes happen, but I think the hawk that has been hanging around may be scaring some birds into the windows.

More on window collisions, how to prevent them, and how to help the stunned birds, from my own experience: Blackbird, fly. And from Cornell Lab of Ornithology…

How to Help a Window Collision Victim
If you find a bird dazed from a window hit, place it in a dark container with a lid such as a shoebox, and leave it somewhere warm and quiet, out of reach of pets and other predators. If the weather is extremely cold, you may need to take it inside. Do not try to give it food and water, and resist handling it as much as possible. The darkness will calm the bird while it revives, which should occur within a few minutes, unless it is seriously injured. Release it outside as soon as it appears awake and alert. If the bird doesn’t recover in a couple of hours, you should take it to a veterinarian or wildlife rehabilitator.

dazed bird

The bird seemed capable of reviving and I didn’t want it to revive in my hand and fly around the house so I put it in a sheltered sunny spot outside where I could keep an eye on it – the window feeder. I had to keep the cat out of the room.

white-throated sparrow

Pretty little bird.

It puffed up its feathers to stay warm. Its eyes were open and it was moving a bit. Finally I went outside and picked it up. It flew out of my hand and into the woods.

My husband was back inside by then, in the kitchen. I went and reported: “The bird is okay! It flew off into the woods!”

“Awesome,” he said.

We looked at the pictures I had taken and identified the species together. We were bonding over birds.

balcony romeo juliet

Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center: A Closer Look at an Ordinary Species

Although white-throated sparrows are indeed common, they should by no means be considered ordinary. These sparrows exhibit a characteristic that is rare in birds, they show genetically-based plumage polymorphism. In other words, these sparrows come in two different color forms, or morphs.


… an individual almost always pairs with another of the opposite color morph for breeding. And despite the fact that images of the white-striped morph are more frequently presented to illustrate the species, the two color morphs actually occur in relatively equal numbers in the population.

Most interesting is that behavior differs between color morphs, especially during the breeding season. Both male and female white-stripe birds are more aggressive than tan-stripe birds. In fact, white-striped females will even sing and contribute to territorial defense, whereas tan-striped females do not. In contrast, tan-striped birds of both sexes provide more care to their young than white-striped birds do.


…there is some evidence to suggest that females of both color morphs prefer the less aggressive, more faithful and parental tan-striped males, while males of both morphs prefer white-striped females. As is the case in many bird species, however, female choice dictates pair bonds. The more aggressive white-striped females appear to outcompete tan-striped females for access to the preferred tan-striped males, leaving tan-striped females to pair with white-striped males.

Regardless of how opposite morph pairs are formed, this mating style seems to equalize the aggressive and parental qualities of the different pair types. That is, the low aggression and high parental care of tan-striped females offsets the high aggression and low parental care of white-striped males. In pairs formed of tan-striped males and white-striped females, each seems to contribute equally to territory defense and parental care.

This morph-specific variation in behavior has drawn a great deal of attention from scientists investigating bird behavior. White-throated sparrows have been the focus of myriad ornithological studies of aggression, parental care, habitat selection, migration, mate choice, extra-pair mating, and polymorphism in birds. In addition, white-throateds have become a model species for studying the physiological mechanisms that control bird behavior. For example, recent studies suggest that behavioral differences between the color morphs are associated with morph-specific differences in hormone levels and brain anatomy.

Discoveries such as these provide new and fascinating insights into the factors that influence bird behavior, and spur further research. This common species has an uncommon amount to teach us.

That’s cool.

When you wish upon a bird


A chickadee flew into the sliding glass door yesterday (even though I have reflective snowflake decals on it). It lay on its back in the snow, feet in the air, motionless, beak agape. I was standing in front of the door when it happened, camera in hand.

I went outside and picked it up.


I had my camera because I was taking pictures of bluebirds. See Flickr album: 8 Bluebirds One Saturday. What are the odds?

The chickadee was all in one piece, feathers intact and smooth. It revived pretty quickly.


But it stayed in my hand. For a long time!

Holding a warm soft perfect little wild bird feels good. The feeling runs from your hand up your arm into some center place of your being.


But I can’t stand out here forever, holding a bird.

I walked over to the porch rail and rested my hand there until the chickadee hopped off. It just sat there for a while looking at me, cocking its head from one side to the other while I talked to it (“see, you’re okay, all better, be careful of the glass” etc) like the crazy bird lady I am apparently becoming.

“But you’re our crazy bird lady,” said a friend on Facebook when I posted the photos and spread the bird wonder a little further out into the world.


I’m your crazy bird lady

“How is this happening??” commented another friend who probably saw a photo of a downy woodpecker in my hand recently too.


Dec. 4, a bowl of soup and a woodpecker

Well, it all started… back in May near the beginning of this blog… with a wish. I wished to be closer to birds. I wished they would hold still enough for me to take good pictures of them to share.

Bang! Grackle grants wish instantly.


(Hey, I was wearing the same shirt as on the chickadee day, L.L.Bean Scotch plaid flannel shirt in “Black Stewart.”)

The feeders are located where they need to be for viewing and attaching. And I have decals on all the windows now. Sorry for the headaches, birds, but I’m glad you’ve only been stunned not killed.

It was just on December 7 that I wrote, of chickadees: I won’t be surprised if one lands on my shoulder or head someday while I’m near the feeders. Even better: chickadee in my hand.

Hm, let’s try this: I wish for a million dollars! I won’t be surprised if I buy a lottery ticket and win a million dollars! And I’ll give half of it to a bird charity!

I started Project Feederwatch today.

There’s a woodpecker in my kitchen

indoor bird

Bird in hand.

Yesterday I was having a bowl of turkey noodle soup for lunch, looking at photos I took in the morning of two snowy owls, when I heard the thump of a bird hitting the sliding glass door… followed by an even louder thump I recognized as the cat hitting the glass from the other side.

On the deck, a stunned female Downy Woodpecker. (The cat was fine. Physically.) I think a hawk chased the bird into the window. I have seen a Sharp-shinned Hawk swooping around in the backyard for a few days and our door has reflective decals on it.

I carefully picked her up. She had just a few small down feathers floating off her and seemed otherwise whole and possibly okay. This is not the first time I have seen a window-stunned bird: Common Grackle in my hand. I brought her inside briefly to retrieve my camera.

downy woodpecker

She was warm and soft and lovely to hold. Can I keep her??

The cat was twining around my ankles and the dog sticking his nose into the situation. So I put her outside on the seed tray, in sunlight.

seed tray

She remained in that catatonic bird state for about three minutes. Then she revived and hopped over to the suet. All better!


I bet woodpeckers have hard little noggins.

Why Don’t Woodpeckers Get Brain Damage? …a woodpecker’s skull is built to absorb shock…

The lives and livelihoods of these birds revolve around slamming their heads into things. Whether it wants to get at an insect hiding in bark, excavate a space to build a nest, claim a bit of territory, or attract a mate, the woodpecker has one simple solution: bang its head against a tree trunk at speeds reaching 13 to 15 miles per hour. In an average day, a woodpecker does this around 12,000 times, and yet they don’t seem to hurt themselves or be the least bit bothered by it. This is because, after millions of years of this type of behavior, they’ve evolved some specialized headgear to prevent injuries to their heads, brains, and eyes.

Tiny but tough.

Blackbird, fly

Common Grackle in my hand

The Common Grackle, a bird in my hand.

As in the fairy tales, be careful what you wish for.

A cackle of grackles (yes, that is the proper collective noun for these icterids) has been visiting for a few days. This morning I wished one would come close enough, or hold still long enough, for me to take a good picture.

Less than a minute later… BAM

Grackle window strike

…a grackle hit the kitchen window, fell to the ground and lay motionless.

“This is spooky,” I thought, and went out to check on it. About half the birds I’ve ever seen hit a window are stunned for a few minutes then they fly off. I was hoping this was the case.

Grackle in grass

Poor bird. It wasn’t moving.

I picked it up gently and checked for obvious wounds or broken bones and found nothing except a few loose feathers on its left shoulder. I held it for about five minutes, then I let it rest on my lap where it was mostly motionless except for mild panting and an occasional blink of its eyes.

Then it pooped on my pants, so I got a nice towel for it to rest on, warm in the sun on the back deck.

Common Grackle on a towel

I hung around and kept an eye on it, even chasing away one of my chickens who came up the back steps. A few times the grackle started to stiffen up and become especially unresponsive; it looked like it was going to do one of those bird-giving-up-and-dying things.

So I encouraged it: “C’mon, bird, don’t give up. Grackles don’t quit!”

About half an hour after the window strike, quite suddenly it popped back to lively life, hopped a couple of times, opened its black wings and flew off into the shady woods.


Later I ran some errands including buying a package of WindowAlert decals (butterfly shapes) from Rolling Green Nursery in Greenland, NH.

To get them to stick right, I had to wash the window. The one damn window in the whole house I can’t flip open to wash from the inside and I have to use a ladder. And my husband is in Barcelona. And I’m afraid of heights.

It’s the only window without a screen in summer, other than half the sliding glass door. We had a problem with bird strikes there too, until I added Window Alert Snowflake Decals a couple of years ago.

I stuck those ultraviolet-reflecting butterflies on good. (Photos by daughter Anna, at home in her pajamas on a Saturday.)

Good to know…

All About Birds: Window Collisions

Hope: New glass technology could stop hundreds of millions of birds from flying into windows every year

two grackles

The rest of the day the grackles came close enough, and held still long enough, for photos. They flew over me while I was in the back field weeding the sprouting corn. Spotted them while I was out back too with Anna, my sister Fiona and our dogs.

Grackles seem to like the Audubon Workshop High Energy Suet Nuggets best.


Grackles can be pests especially for farmers, but I like them. They are spunky and attractive.

Common Grackles are blackbirds that look like they’ve been slightly stretched. They’re taller and longer tailed than a typical blackbird, with a longer, more tapered bill and glossy-iridescent bodies. Grackles walk around lawns and fields on their long legs or gather in noisy groups high in trees, typically evergreens.

A bright golden eye gives grackles an intent expression.

grackle on suet

This evening I celebrated my strange encounter by inventing a new cocktail…

The Common Grackle Cocktail

The Common Grackle.

1 part ROOT
3 parts Coca-Cola