What causes a bird to fly into my window repeatedly with reckless abandon?
October 24, 2005 11:55 AM   Subscribe

Why are birds repeatedly hurling themselves against my office window?

It isn't just accidental, like when a bird doesn't see the glass and crashes into the window, knocking itself silly (or dead). It's a persistent tapping behavior. The bird flies against the window, tapping at it with its beak, then lands on the tree right next to the window, then does it again and again. It's lmost the same rhythm as if a kid were throwing a ball against the side of the house. *Bonk* *Bonk* *Bonk*

It started several months ago with a different bird of indeterminate species who has since left. Last week, the same behavior started again with a beautiful, bright red cardinal. He's tapping at my window on and off since last Wednesday, and he's doing it right now. It's almost like a game, and I kind of enjoy the distraction (so do the cats), but I'm also not out there smearing peanut butter and bird seed on my window, so I don't get why it's happening.

Is this typical bird behavior? What would cause this?
posted by MegoSteve to Pets & Animals (18 answers total)
Pretty common...probably seeing its reflection.. it's not going after your window, but what it thinks is another bird.
posted by HuronBob at 11:58 AM on October 24, 2005

Only happens during the day, right? It's darker inside than out, so your window is acting as a mirror. That bird has a nest nearby, so it it challenging the "other" bird it thinks it sees.
posted by nicwolff at 11:59 AM on October 24, 2005

Is it that they see the reflection of the world outside, and can't discern that there is a pane of glass there?

Birds used to constantly crash into my living room picture window because it reflected the trees in our backyard. We always assumed the birds couldn't tell that the reflection wasn't real and tried to fly "into" it. I know you said it's not that behavior, but this is all I could think of.

Are they hurting themselves at all doing this? Or are they fully aware of the glass?
posted by dead_ at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2005

Like some other posters mentioned, it's probably like when you hold a mirror up to a dog and it starts barking because it thinks there's another dog in the room.
posted by dead_ at 12:01 PM on October 24, 2005

Response by poster: Well, it is happening during the day, and I have no way of knowing if it's happening at night because this is my office and I leave before it gets dark. What just amazes me is that this has been going on for days now... the bird will just keep doing it literally dozens of times in a row, then fly off for a bit, then come back and fly into the window a few more dozen times. He's doing it now. Let me see if I can grab a picture.
posted by MegoSteve at 12:03 PM on October 24, 2005

I wondered why there was bird poop all over the outside mirrors of my parked car until I noticed a bird fighting his reflection for hours on end. It's common territorial behaviour. A couple of socks over the mirror solved the problem. A black cutout of a small hawk taped to the window will likely fix your problem.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:20 PM on October 24, 2005

During mating periods male birds get extra territorial and will attack their reflection.
posted by letterneversent at 12:21 PM on October 24, 2005

i worked at a very modern science center in college with large glass windows, and we avoided this problem by taping solid black construction-paper silhouettes of crows/hawks to the window. The crows/hawks were depicted of having their wings spread almost like bats.

on preview: >>A black cutout of a small hawk taped to the window will likely fix your problem. YES!
posted by naxosaxur at 12:32 PM on October 24, 2005

Pretty much any highly-visible thing taped to your window will prove to the birds that they're approaching a solid, stationary object, not the sky or another bird. For a long time, I used blue painters' tape -- till I finally got around to doing something more attractive. It worked great.
posted by wryly at 12:44 PM on October 24, 2005

This behaviour -- days of fighting with a mirror image -- shows that "bird brain" ain't a mild insult for nuttin'.
posted by five fresh fish at 12:49 PM on October 24, 2005

This thing with taping stuff to your windows is not garunteed to work. Either than or the birds at my old school where *really* stupid. There where always large pigeon shaped smudge marks on the glass walled walkway between two buildings despite being covered in little stick on hawk pictures. I had in fact seen the same pigeon do it 5-6 times over the course of an hour once, in the middle of the day. Perhaps pigeons are especially dimwitted though?
posted by alexst at 1:43 PM on October 24, 2005

So the guy who won the Ig Nobel a couple years ago for observing necrophilia in ducks has currently been studying a similar situation in Rotterdam with a single individual bird that has been repeatedly flying into the same window for a couple years now. The guy's name is Kees Moeliker, you might send him an email.

Even as a professional ornithologist, he said he hasn't figured out why this is happening. It happens year round, clean window or dirty, ornamented or not. The one variation was that he did it less during the season when he was mating or had young, when he was busy with those more productive activities.
posted by whatzit at 7:15 PM on October 24, 2005

"Why are birds repeatedly hurling themselves against my office window?"

To get to the other side?

Seriously, is it possible there is something visible through the window that the bird is potentially trying to get to? After all, this is the second bird to try, albeit this one seems more determined.

IANAO (I am not an ornithologist), and my name doesn't reflect ANY expertise in the area.
posted by birdsquared at 9:17 PM on October 24, 2005

Evenly matched competitors in nature must be extremely rare, perhaps nonexistent. Every contest produces a pecking order, however marginal. The window/mirror produces an artificial but perfectly symmetrical match, unlike anything birds have encountered in millions of years of evolution. I figure that occasionally a particularly aggressive individual must get locked in to this battle with his mirror image.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 10:30 PM on October 24, 2005

The cutout hawk is also very effective on a horizontal surface, like a parking lot, where it imitates a hovering hawk's shadow. You can make a realistic one by photocopying a silhouette from a bird book several times until it becomes life size. Move it around every day or two, so the birds don't get wise. They'll eventually figure it out when a particularly young or stupid bird, like a baby robin, starts hopping around on it.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 11:13 PM on October 24, 2005

FLAP - first seen here (by me, at least).
posted by Eideteker at 9:31 PM on October 25, 2005

Response by poster: I don't see that anyone else would be reading the thread this late, but I made a transparency of a silhouette of a large bird and put it on the window today. Now the cardinal is attacking that spot with even more intensity.
posted by MegoSteve at 11:51 AM on October 26, 2005

Mego: You were linked in Lifehacker's AskMefi roundup this week, so you might get some residual hits (like me).

Just so you know.
posted by Eideteker at 12:49 PM on October 26, 2005

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