Sure, your huge windows allow for great views. But is your home harming wildlife?
By Chere Di Boscio
There’s a lot to be said for having large windows. You get more light, can look out to more views, and your home feels larger, and more open. Unfortunately, there’s a downside, too. Namely, the fact that large windows can kill birds. A lot of birds.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service estimates about 750 million birds perish annually flying into glass windows and buildings, which can be hard for them to distinguish from open airspace. The problem is so bad in some cities, the owners of skyscrapers actually hire workers to remove expired birds from the bottoms of their buildings.
Thankfully, today, the US Green Building Council to launch a LEED pilot credit #55 for incorporating “bird collision deterrence” into new architecture. The aim is to make glass buildings as visible to birds as possible.
This can be done in several ways.
For example, there are specialised screens and louvers, and decreased night lighting levels. For those with a big budget, you could opt for Ornilux, a UV coating visible only to birds. There are also various hues of ceramic fritting (the range of colours ensures that the lines are visible to birds from a variety of species).
But is your home harming wildlife? If you have the misfortune of having birds smash into your windows, there are easier options, too.
How to stop birds from smashing into your windows
1. Add screens
Not only can screens on your windows catch nasty insects, they also add a murky layer in front of the reflected landscape scenes that often draw birds to glass. For insect screens, make sure they’re outside the windows and cover the entire section; for netting, the net should be taut and at least 3 inches from the windows so that birds can bounce off the soft barrier before crashing into the glass.
2. Get some blinds
Venitian blinds are a great way to stop birds from smashing into your windows. Even when open, their lines indicate to birds that this space is not ‘open’.
3. Draw your curtains shut
I’m not saying turn your house into a cave-like dwelling. I’m suggesting that at the hours when birds are most active, you could draw your curtains shut on the windows birds are most likely to smash into. Bonus: this will cool your house in summer, and warm it in winter!
4. Keep your lights off at night
Every spring and fall, billions of birds migrate great distances at night. For some, that long journey ends with a catastrophic crash into a brightly lit window. Light pollution disorients birds, as many of them navigate by starlight. The confusion can cause them to collide with windows. It also leaves surviving birds exhausted as they try to navigate the confusing, artificially bright night. To help migrating birds, turn off or dim internal and external lights.
5. Get decorative
If you apply strips of tape or dot decals a tightly spaced grid across the exteriors of your windows, this will distort any reflection on the glass. Though the rows of tape may slightly obstruct your own view of the outdoors, creating large gaps between the strips defeats their purpose, as birds accustomed to darting among dense branches may still attempt to squeeze through the non-reflective portions of the window.
6. Keep plants away
Moving houseplants away from windows helps to stop birds from smashing into your windows. When they see plants, they think they might be able to perch there.
7. Get some specialised curtains
Finally, if you live in the USA and don’t have large windows yourself, but have noticed many fatalities on houses or buildings near you, you can report them on D-Bird, an online portal.
It’s not just about the birds
Is your home harming other wildlife? It’s entirely possible. For example, you might be destroying entire ecosystems of insects, animals, soil bacteria and fauna. Here’s how.
I think it’s not an exaggeration to say that green grass lawns are an ecological disaster. And that’s true for many reasons.
One, it’s a ‘monoculture’. There’s no diversity of flora for local fauna to thrive on.
Two, since it is a monoculture, most people saturate their grass with highly toxic weed killer. Not only does this kill of beneficial soil bacteria and insects (thus starving birds), it also eventually enters the water table, and harms us, too.
Killing bees and insects means no food for birds, bats and snakes. So we have fewer of those. And without those animals, larger ones can’t survive either.
Luckily, there is a solution!
Why not make your property an oasis for wildlife? You can help to conserve species and mitigate some of the harm caused by construction.
- Plant a pollinator-friendly garden
- Install a bat box
- Provide a soggy spot for butterflies
- Offer nutrient-rich seed for birds
- Build a brush pile
- Avoid planting non-native (and sometimes invasive) species
- Remember: your cats and dogs are also responsible for killing local fauna. Be sure to walk your dog on a leash, and put a bell collar on your cats (or better yet, keep them indoors!)
Is your home harming wildlife through light pollution? It’s very likely!
As mentioned, keeping on loads of lights without shutting blinds or curtains can harm birds. Many will circle brightly lit buildings throughout the night, leading to exhaustion and depletion of the energy stores they need for their journeys. Worse, birds often collide with lighted structures. Studies have shown that artificial nocturnal light also interferes with a migrating songbird’s ability to use natural polarised light from the sky to calibrate its internal compass.
But light pollution hurts other animals, too. For example, once upon a time, fireflies were very common. Now, they’re nearly endangered, and that’s mainly down to light pollution. The thing is, fireflies attract mates with their lights. With light pollution, they can’t be seen. No mates. No reproduction.
In addition, night light disturbs the melatonin production of raccoons, foxes, bats, birds, dogs, cats, and of course, humans, too.
To solve this problem, close all blinds and curtains at night, and don’t light up the outdoors at all. If you’re worried about security, get a motion-sensor light.
Here’s one way your home might be harming wildlife that you probably never thought of: EMF pollution.
This refers to electromagnetic frequencies (EMF) and radiofrequency (RF) ranges of the non-ionizing electromagnetic spectrum. In short, I’m talking about the frequencies emitted from your wifi, smart doorbell, phone, smart meter and so on.
These wavelengths are capable of adversely affecting both fauna and flora in all species studied. And that’s true even at very low intensities.
For example, migratory birds, and numerous insect species including honey bees, depend on the Earth’s electromagnetic signals to navigate. EMFs and RFs interrupt those signals. The animals get confused and lost.
And despite classic assumptions that non-ionizing radiation cannot directly damage DNA, genotoxic effects have been seen in land-based, aerial, aquatic, and plant species at very low intensity RFR exposures far below most national guidelines. There are at least 48 papers showing DNA damage after exposure to RFs. Any existing exposure standards are for humans only. Wildlife is unprotected, including within the safety margins of existing guidelines.
But that’s not good enough. EMFs and RFs from our homes are not safe. To illustrate, when insects were exposed to EMFs, they first tried to escape. This was followed by motor disturbance and coordination problems, including stiffening, immobility, and rigidity. Eventually, the insects died.
As mentioned above: no insects means no food for birds, frogs, snakes and so on. And when those creatures can’t eat, bigger animals on the food chain also starve. Including us.
It’s a sad fact that your home is probably harming wildlife. But there is something you can do about it.
- Protect birds from crashing into your windows
- Create a sanctuary for life in your yard, instead of growing grass
- End light pollution by closing blinds and windows at night, and by using only motion-sensor lights outdoors
- Shun any ‘smart’ appliances, doorbells, electric meters and so on in your home. Turn off your wifi at night.
And above all, remember this: we too are animals. By harming animals with our homes, we are essentially harming ourselves, as well.