As every year draws to a close, I start planning how to make the next year better, especially for my backyard birds.
When we first moved to Duluth in the 1980s, I used to consider a few birds killed each year by a picture window to be heartbreaking but unavoidable. I quickly learned better.
Our dining room window was the biggest culprit. It overlooked most of my feeders, situated 10 to 15 feet away. A 1990 scientific paper by Muhlenberg College ornithologist Daniel Klem suggested that feeders should be placed within 3 feet of a window, so we screwed a large tray feeder into the window framing. That one simple step ended window strikes entirely at that window; now I could watch my feeder birds at close range without guilt.
A few other windows on our house killed or stunned warblers and thrushes during migration. I tried decals on the window before I learned that Klem recommended spacing them much closer together than I was doing. When the American Bird Conservancy started selling ABC Bird Tape, to make windows visible to birds, it solved that problem. For several years the tape has worked, but when it starts peeling, I’ll replace it, window by window, with Acopian BirdSavers. Nicknamed “Zen Wind Curtains,” these are strands of parachute cording about 4 inches apart, dangling outside windows. They’re removable for washing and more durable and attractive than tape.
In December 1985, the biggest single danger to my backyard birds was a stray cat. I adopted the cat and kept her indoors, but I started thinking more about how huge the cat problem was. Back then I couldn’t interest any national conservation organizations in the issue, but I started working locally to get our city council to pass an ordinance prohibiting free-roaming cats. Several city councilors said they couldn’t choose one group of animal lovers over another; what finally convinced them was the testimony of representatives from our county health department, discussing toxoplasmosis. One spokesman said that the fragile immune systems of the elderly and toddlers put them at special risk; outdoor cats using flower beds and sandboxes as litter boxes essentially target these vulnerable people. Our cat-leash law took effect in 2000.
On a smaller scale, I like to start each year with tasks that make my backyard birds’ lives easier. Might a wren house or chickadee box need repairs or replacement? Would this be a good year to plant new trees or shrubs? Do any of my feeders need repairs or replacement? The last week of December I also make sure each of my feeders is sparkling clean. By doing this before New Year’s Eve, I fulfill at least one New Year’s resolution ahead of time, and the birds win, too.
This article from Laura Erickson’s column “Attracting Birds” appeared in the November/December 2017 issue of BirdWatching.
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