Reports say that about one billion birds die each year after flying into windows in the US alone, and cardinals are among the most common victims. Even if the bird was lucky enough to cheat death, it’d probably live with permanent injuries in the skill, bill, or wings. Why do cardinals fly into windows? There are three reasons:
- Cardinals may be attacking their reflections, thinking that another bird is invading their territory.
- If the window is crystal clear, cardinals may think they’re flying into open space.
- Cardinals that recently ate fermented berries may be too disoriented to see the mirror.
That was the short answer, but I’ve got way more to share on this topic. I’ll analyze all the reasons why cardinals fly into windows, and I’ll also share some ways to protect them.
3 Reasons Why Cardinals Fly Into Windows
Technically speaking, you can skip directly to the solutions in the next section to learn how to protect cardinals from striking your window. However, understanding the underlying causes will allow you to devise your own solutions if the ones I’ll present don’t prove useful.
1. They’re Attacking Their Own Reflections
In case you haven’t already realized, the protagonist of the Angry Birds game is a male Northern Cardinal! This game’s creators couldn’t find a better species to embody the angry bird leader in the war against the nasty pigs.
When the mating season rolls around, male cardinals become super aggressive toward other birds, especially other male cardinals.
If a cardinal spots an intruder inside its territory, it’ll sound a series of warning songs first. Most intruders will back off after hearing this call because they know that cardinals shouldn’t be messed with.
When a cardinal stands in front of your window, it falsely perceives its own reflection as an intruder. And since the warning call won’t shake off the imaginary rival, the cardinal will start flying and pecking at the window until it gets injured.
Cardinals Turn Peaceful in the Winter
Although cardinals don’t typically live in large flocks, their territorial instincts gradually fade away as they move into wintertime. It’s extremely common to see a group of ten male cardinals scouting your backyard for seeds during that time.
Of course, as soon as cardinals begin to accept other males into their territory, you should expect the window accidents to happen less often.
2. They Don’t See a Physical Barrier
I’m pretty sure you’ve seen hundreds of videos capturing unlucky people as they dash through glass doors. If the glass can deceive intelligent humans, birds surely don’t stand a chance!
Author Note: If your window is reflecting dense outdoor vegetation, cardinals may think they’re flying through a clear path. If you keep some potted plants right by the window, cardinals may feel tempted to go explore that untapped territory.
3. They Might Be Disoriented
Cardinals, and all birds for that matter, have an excellent spatial perception, which is why they can weave through dense branches without breaking a sweat. However, that ability might become impaired for two reasons: eating fermented berries and looking at glaring lights.
Getting Drunk on Fermented Berries
As you might already know, cardinals aren’t picky eaters. They love to feed on a broad selection of seeds, fruits, and even insects, but berries are among their all-time favorites.
As berries become over-ripe, their sugar content doubles up, paving the way for fermentation and alcohol production. Because cardinals have tiny bodies, eating a few of these fermented berries can make them, well, tipsy! Yes, birds do get drunk!
That phenomenon becomes especially common after the first frost. The actual date varies according to your location, but it generally happens between September 1 and December 13.
The good news is, cardinals will sober up on their own. But if you happen to catch a drunk cardinal, you can put it inside a dark box until it soberizes. This way, you’ll be protecting it from dashing into windows or becoming a helpless prey.
Getting Distracted By Bright Lights
Birds use stars to navigate the sky, especially while migrating. But if they have to pass through busy towns, they might get distracted by street lights, lit windows, car headlights, etc.
Luckily, cardinals don’t migrate too far from where they were born. Besides, they usually head to their sleeping locations once the sun goes down.
However, if a predator wreaks havoc on their nest during the night, the cardinals will have no choice but to fly away, and that’s where accidents may happen.
7 Ways to Prevent Cardinals From Flying Into Windows
Alright, now that we’ve explained all the possible causes behind these unfortunate accidents, let’s see how you can protect those precious birds from facing imminent demise.
1. Tape Your Windows
Attach 1/2-inch duct tape on the outside surface of your windows to make them more visible to birds.
For the ultimate results, make sure to pick a bright color that can be clearly visible from a distance, such as red, orange, and light green. Black tape won’t work because windows already look dark from the outside.
Author Note: After determining the color, now it’s time to think about the spacing. You can run vertical stripes spaced no further than 4 inches. On the other hand, horizontal stripes should be placed 2 inches apart.
Why these measurements in particular? Well, the average size of cardinals is 8 inches, meaning that they can squeeze themselves through any gap wider than 6 inches. So you should always make sure that the untapped areas of your windows are narrower than 6 inches.
2. Attach Some Decals
Although taping your windows would do the trick, it won’t look stylish. Instead, you could opt for colorful decals.
However, keep in mind that attaching only one decal won’t cut it. Like I said earlier, cardinals will think they can squeeze through the clear parts of your window if they’re big enough.
Put up as many decals as you can fit on the window. Then use your palm to evaluate the clear areas. If you find a gap that’s bigger than your palm, cover it with tape or another decal.
And again, those decals should go on the outside surface of your windows — that’s where they can really break up the reflection.
3. Attach a Fine-Mesh Netting
If you’re into DIY projects, you could have some fun implementing this idea.
Grab a fine-mesh netting, preferably one that’s made of polypropylene. Then, attach this netting to a wooden frame that’s slightly larger than your window. Finish by attaching this frame 2 inches away from your window by using shelf brackets.
Some people mount the netting directly over the window. Although this may make the window more visible to cardinals, it doesn’t actually make use of the netting.
When you mount the netting far away from the window, birds can safely bounce off it without hitting the glass. You’ll be basically creating a fancy trampoline for those cute birds!
4. Use Frosted Privacy Films
If you don’t mind covering your windows for the whole mating season, the Rabbitgoo Privacy Film should be your best bet.
These films will make your windows look like solid brick walls, making it highly unlikely for cardinals to fly into them. Better yet, the films can reflect 84% UVA rays and 99% UVB rays, which should make your house much cooler during the summer.
Once the mating season wraps up, you can easily take the films off your windows without having to deal with any sticky residue.
5. Paint the Windows with Tempera Paint
If your kids like to paint, you can let them nurture their talent on the windows with tempera paint.
Author Note: The best thing about tempera paints is that you can easily remove them with soapy water. Plus, they don’t flake or crack with heat, meaning that they’ll last throughout the mating season.
Remember, the clear gaps between the painted patterns shouldn’t be bigger than 6 inches. Otherwise, cardinals will keep crashing into them.
6. Install External Shutters
If you want a permanent solution, consider installing electric external shutters. Keeping those shutters closed when you don’t need the sunlight will surely put an end to bird accidents.
Awnings and sunshades will technically block the external reflection, but cardinals may still fly into the window if you have indoor plants. If you still want to go with awnings, consider pairing them up with internal curtains or blinds.
7. Relocate Your Bird Feeder
If you have a bird feeder in your backyard, place it within 3–4 feet away from your windows.
This way, birds won’t gain enough momentum before hitting the window, which should minimize the risk of serious injuries.
8. Turn Off the Lights
As I said earlier, cardinals might mistake a lit window for a star when flying during the night. Always turn off the lights before leaving a room, or close the blinds whenever possible.
Cardinals are naturally territorial, so they’ll fly into windows if they perceive their reflection as another cardinal invading their territory. When the mating season ends, they may still dart at windows if they can’t realize there’s a physical barrier blocking the way.
To solve this problem, you should make your windows look opaque, or at least break up the outdoor reflection. You can use duct tape, decals, tempera paint, or privacy films.
Fly high friends!