FAQ | Why do birds collide? | Collisions in Ottawa | Species list

Helping a bird in trouble

Preventing collisions

Understanding collisions

Other threats to birds

Safe Wings Ottawa

Helping a bird in trouble

I found an injured bird. What should I do?

If you suspect that the bird hit a window, see our instructions here. Injured birds can brought to the Wild Bird Care Centre (734 Moodie Dr, 613-828-2849) between 8 a.m and 4 p.m., 365 days per year, or by prior arrangement to Safe Wings. Because Safe Wings’ volunteer rehabber operates out of a private home, you must first call 613-216-8999 for the address, and to ensure that someone is available to take the bird.

I found a baby bird on the ground. What should I do?

If it’s a nestling with no or few feathers, return it to the nest as quickly as possible, if you can. If the nest is not accessible, keep the bird warm and get it to the Wild Bird Care Centre as soon as possible. If it has most or all of its feathers, read on. If you’re not sure about the bird’s stage of development, visit the Wild Bird Care Centre’s website to find out. 

There’s a bird on the ground/sidewalk/street. What should I do?

It’s perfectly normal for fledglings — young birds that have most or all of their feathers — to leave the nest before they can really fly, and spend a few days on the ground as they strengthen their wings. If the bird is sitting upright, hopping around or taking short flights, or if there are other birds coming to it or staying close by, it’s probably a fledgling still being cared for by its parents, and should be left alone. It’s very important to keep pets and children (and adults!) away during this vulnerable stage.

If the bird is in a dangerous place, such on or close to the street, you can move it to a safer place, but no more than 30 feet. Touching it will not make the parents reject it.

Please do not take a healthy fledgling away from its habitat and parents. However, if you see any signs of injury or illness —if it has any blood on it or other wounds, is dragging a leg or wing, is unable to sit upright, falls over when walking, etc. — or if there’s a likelihood that it has been bitten by a cat, it likely needs to be rescued. If you are unsure, contact the Wild Bird Care Centre or Safe Wings before intervening.

A bird hit my window and it’s just sitting there. Does it just need to rest?

No. A stunned bird usually has a concussion, may have other injuries, and is very vulnerable to predators. To greatly increase its odds of survival, pick it up as soon as possible, before it tries to fly away, and follow our instructions for rescuing birds. Do not wait to see if the bird will fly away on its own; being able to fly away does not mean the bird is okay.

Is it normal for a wild bird to let a human approach, or pick it up? 

No. This usually means the bird is injured and unable to respond normally to “danger” (us) because its mobility and/or awareness are compromised. Healthy wild birds (except for fledglings — see above) will fly away when a human approaches.

If you can pick up a bird, it probably needs help, so you should get it into a box or paper bag as quickly as possible. To minimize stress to the bird, which may kill it, don’t talk to it or stroke it, but follow our rescue instructions.

A bird hit a window and died. What should I do with the dead bird?

Believe it or not, we want your dead bird. Please follow our instructions

Can I get sick from touching a bird?

It’s not impossible, but very unlikely. Wash your hands before and after handling a bird.

For more information on helping injured or orphaned birds, see the Wild Bird Care Centre’s FAQs

Preventing collisions

How can I prevent bird collisions at my home?

Please see our page on Safer Home Strategies.

I live in an apartment building/rental. What can I do to prevent collisions there?

Even if you are not able to apply a collision-prevention product to the outside of your windows, there are still strategies you can try. Close your curtains and move plants away from windows. There are temporary fixes that can work, such as ribbons hung on the outside of the window. See more tips at the bottom of this page. You can also try bringing the collision problem to the attention of your building manager or landlord — many are simply unaware of this problem and the scale of its impact, and may be willing to take action. 

I’ve only seen one bird collide at my home. Does that mean my windows aren’t a problem?

You may not be aware of how many birds are colliding if you are away during the day, in another room, or otherwise not constantly monitoring your windows. You may also may not find any dead or stunned birds because these are quickly picked off by neighbourhood cats or other animals.

Treating potentially hazardous windows as well as clear deck or balcony railings, even if you’ve only seen one or two collisions, could save many more birds than you think.

Will preventing collisions at my home ruin my view?

Many effective products for collision prevention are unobtrusive, or decorative and attractive. Volunteers who use these products at their homes report that they don’t even notice them, much like window screens. And watching birds through the window is much more enjoyable when you know you’ve done what you can to make that window safe.

What are governments doing to address this problem? How can I support change at the government level?

Many jurisdictions across North America have developed guidelines and ordinances supporting various preventative measure to address the problem. We have been working with the City of Ottawa, and some councillors support our suggestions. Plans for bird-friendly guidelines and development of educational resources for Ottawa are underway.

Safe Wings Ottawa has also been advising federal government staff on guidelines for making federally-owned properties more bird-friendly. You can write the city councillor for your ward and your local MP to let them know this issue is important to you and encourage them to support solutions (see What can Ottawa do?).

Understanding collisions

Why do birds collide with glass?

Find out on our “Why do birds collide?” page.

Can birds learn to see glass?

Yes, and some do, especially resident urban species. But for many, if not most, the lesson comes too late, and their first encounter with glass is also their last one.

Do birds hit windows because they’re drunk on fermented fruit?

Eating fermented fruit might make birds more likely to collide with glass, but most collisions have nothing to do with drunk birds and everything to do with birds being tricked by reflections or transparent glass. In any case, birds eating fermented fruit is a normal part of nature, while windows not, so the problem is with the windows, not the fruit or the birds.

What type of building is most dangerous to birds?

Residences are responsible for 44% of bird collisions, while low-rises (4 to 11 storeys) account for 55%, and high-rises for fewer than 1%. This is because most collisions happen within 5 storeys of the ground, but also because high-rise buildings are less likely to be in natural settings that attract birds, and because there are so many more houses and low-rise buildings than big towers.

The bottom line is that all types of building kill birds, but because low-rise residences are so numerous and the collisions they cause really add up, we encourage all homeowners to take action to prevent collisions on their property.

How does outdoor lighting affect bird-window collisions?

Artificial lights draw migrating birds into populated areas, where they are more likely to collide. See the Bird-Friendly Building Design Guide by the American Bird Conservancy and New York Audubon City for more detailed information about the impacts of light pollution and how to reduce it.

What kinds of birds collide with windows?

A wide variety of bird species is affected by collisions with glass, from common birds to species at risk. See our species list to find out which species we have found injured or killed by collisions in Ottawa.  

Are scientists researching bird-window collisions and their impacts on bird populations?

Yes. Awareness of this problem is growing, and the number of research projects dedicated to better understanding it and finding effective solutions is also increasing. Many studies have been undertaken, or are in progress, to accurately estimate the number of birds killed by collisions (e.g., Machtans et al. 2013); determine how collision mortality is influenced by building characteristics, landscaping around buildings, and where buildings are situated (e.g., Hager et al. 2017); identify the most effective window materials for preventing collisions (e.g., American Bird Conservancy’s glass tests); and more.

Safe Wings Ottawa’s recommendations for preventing window collisions are based on the results of scientific research, and our own data contribute to this body of knowledge.

Why is it important to reduce bird-window collisions?

Populations of many bird species in North America are declining. Bird-window collisions are one of the leading human-related causes of bird deaths, killing tens of millions of birds in Canada every year, and hundreds of millions to over one billion across North America.

We know how to prevent these deaths, and doing so is fairly straightforward. Taking action will save lives and help conserve bird populations, so that birds can continue to thrive, benefit people in many ways, and contribute to a healthy ecosystem for a long time to come.

Other threats to birds

 What about cats?

The results of scientific research show that, without question, cats are a leading cause of bird deaths. As with window collisions, this is a threat to birds that humans have the power to influence. While Safe Wings Ottawa’s limited resources and volunteer efforts are dedicated to addressing the problem of bird-window collisions, other initiatives are underway to reduce the number of birds killed by cats. Please see catsandbirds.ca for more information.

Note that birds that have become disoriented or injured by hitting a window make easy prey for cats, so reducing collisions should also help reduce the number of birds killed by cats. Window collision experts believe that a significant number of deaths attributed to cats are birds that first collided with a window.

What about wind turbines?

While studies of human-related causes of bird mortality vary in their estimates and conclusions, scientists agree that collisions with buildings are a leading cause bird fatalities, responsible for hundreds of millions to over one billion bird deaths across North America per year. In comparison, wind turbines are thought to kill fewer than a million birds per year. 

Safe Wings Ottawa’s limited resources and volunteer efforts are dedicated to addressing the problem of bird-window collisions; however, there are initiatives underway in Canada dedicated to monitoring and reducing the number of bird deaths caused by wind turbines.

Safe Wings Ottawa

What is Safe Wings Ottawa and what does it do?

Safe Wings Ottawa is a program of the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. We work to reduce bird mortality from window collisions through research, prevention and rescue. Find out more about us.

What does Safe Wings Ottawa do with the birds it finds?

Injured birds rescued by Safe Wings volunteers are assessed and either released away from hazardous buildings after a period of recovery, or brought to the Wild Bird Care Centre for medical attention.

Dead birds are collected for scientific and educational purposes. First, we confirm the species identification and document the collision. We also host an annual display of all the previous year’s birds to raise public awareness, then donate the specimens to qualified institutions, such as universities and museums.

Does Safe Wings Ottawa receive government funding?

Safe Wings is run entirely by volunteers on a very modest budget, and receives no sustained funding from the government. We rely on donations and support from the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club to cover the costs of bird rescue and rehab supplies, printed materials, etc. We also receive occasional grants to fund special projects.

We have begun applying for funding from some non-governmental sources to enable us to do more to educate people about bird collisions and solutions.

I’d like to support Safe Wings Ottawa. How can I do that?

Thank you for your interest! We would appreciate your support as a volunteer or donor. And please help us raise awareness about bird-window collisions by sharing our collision prevention information with your family, friends, neighbours and colleagues.