Thumbnail image: Sujata Roy/Project FeederWatch
[Chelsea Benson] Welcome everyone. It’s so good to see you. I’m just enjoying looking at people saying where they’re from in the chat. I see people from the United States and Canada. I saw India, Sri Lanka, Brazil. So it’s so great to see so many people from all around the world joining in for our talk today.
So welcome to today’s webinar from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology. We’re going to be discussing actions you can take around your home to help birds as they migrate through. Before we get started with today’s webinar, which is hosted from Ithaca, New York, I’m going to read a statement acknowledging the indigenous people as the original inhabitants of this area.
Cornell University is located on the traditional homelands of the Gayogoho:no, the Cayuga Nation. The Gayogoho:no are members of the Ani Nasuni Confederacy, an alliance of six sovereign nations with a historic and contemporary presence on this land. The Confederacy precedes the establishment of Cornell University, New York State in the United States of America. And we acknowledge the painful history of the Gayogoho:no dispossession and honor the ongoing connection of the Gayogoho:no people, past and present, to these lands and waters.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, we’re home to a community of researchers and supporters from around the world who appreciate birds in the integral role they play in our ecosystem. Our mission is to advance leading edge research citizen science and education that help solve concern pressing conservation challenges. Today’s webinar is the very first live event in our two week migration celebration.
We’re going to be focusing on fun things around migration, and I encourage you all to look at those events. The website is being posted in the chat. So welcome. My name is Chelsea Benson. I’m on the visitor center team at the Cornell Lab, and I’m going to be facilitating today’s conversation. With us today is Becca Rodomsky-Bish. She’s the project coordinator for the Great Backyard Bird Count and Nest Quest Go here at the Cornell Lab. Hi Becca.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Hey, Chelsea. Great to be here. Thanks for having me.
[Chelsea Benson] Of course. I’m really excited for our conversation. And we also have Christine Shepherd she’s the glass collisions program director at the American Bird Conservancy. Hi, Chris.
[Christine Shepherd] Hi, Chelsea. Thanks for inviting me.
[Chelsea Benson] This is going to be great. And I can see already that people are in the chat and in the Q&A and they’re ready to hear from you both. I have a couple quick tech-related announcements, and then we’re going to get right into the heart of it.
So we have closed captioning if you’re watching in Zoom. You can click on the CC button to turn those on or off for those of you who are on Zoom, you can click the Q&A button located at the bottom of your screen, type your questions into the Q&A, and we’ll be answering some verbally, and for others we’ll type in your response, which you can see in the answered column. Please only use the Zoom chat for technical support.
I have colleagues who are in the back answering your questions, so thank you to them. We’re also streaming live to Facebook. And if you’re watching on the Cornell Lab or the American Bird Conservancy Facebook pages, you can add your questions to the comments. We have had spam attempts, so don’t click on any links unless they’re from the Cornell Lab or from the American Bird Conservancy.
Let’s get started. That was a lot of announcements. To begin, I’d love if you could introduce yourselves and share more about your work and how it connects to our topic today. Chris, can you start us off?
[Christine Shepherd] Sure. I manage the glass collisions program, and the largest number of birds killed by glass are migratory songbirds, and it’s during migration that most collisions take place. So it’s very important to me to know what birds are doing and to help people figure out how to keep them safe.
[Chelsea Benson] Becca.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah. So I am the project leader for the Great Backyard Bird Count and Nest Quest Go, as Chelsea mentioned, and I’m very passionate about how and what we can do as individuals in and around our homes and communities to better support and protect birds. And one of my personal ways of doing that in my professional and personal time is by promoting habitat. So as you can see, this is one of my habitat spots on my property. I’m a very avid native plant gardener. So that’s what I’ll be talking about a lot today.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. So if you could share a little bit more, Becca, what are some basic things that you do around your gardens to support migratory birds that are coming through?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. Well, as you can see, a lot of the flowers that are native to our region produce amazing resources for birds. Not just in the summertime but year round. So many of the flowers that you see pictured and other flowers and trees and shrubs on my property produce fruits and nuts and seeds. And so migratory birds that are moving through are going to find a plethora of that to consume if they happen to stop by my house.
In addition to that, I also provide water. And this is really important, especially for areas that do experience cold and frosts. We could technically get a frost any day now where I live, and so trying to provide fresh open water for as long as possible for the birds are the major things that I do for migrants.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah I love that. I think a lot of times when people think about supporting migratory birds, we like think right about food, but a big part of it is also water, and we’ll talk more about that as our program goes on. And what about you, Chris? What are a few things that you like to think about birds as they’re going through?
[Christine Shepherd] Well, since I moved into the house and took over the garden, all of the lawn has been turned into native plants, which is great. I think that my milkweed has now started to grow in everybody else’s garden for quite a while, but we’re starting to see monarchs, which is really exciting. I keep my cats indoors and I encourage everybody to do that. They’re happy to watch out the window.
And my neighbors over the years have watched me test out any number of solutions for making glass bird friendly, and they’ve finally decided I’m not completely crazy.
[Chelsea Benson] So could you talk more about why it’s so important to make your windows bird friendly? I know that windows strikes is something that is a huge problem for migratory birds. Could you tell us more about why birds don’t see glass? Because it seems like they’re just running into it. Why can’t they see what we might see?
[Christine Shepherd] No. They see exactly what you see. And so we have to step back a little bit and realize that people don’t see glass either. We learn about glass when we’re young, and we’re able to wrap our brains around the concept of a transparent material that can also be reflective. But we use cues to tell us where to expect glass. And in fact people run into glass all the time. If you go online and Google person hits glass you’ll find all kinds of videos usually taken with security cameras of people smashing into glass doors and so forth.
And if I take away the cues that tell you where glass is. I mean, look at this picture. You can’t tell me if this is a reflection or if you’re seeing through glass to that tree or if I took a picture of the tree. When I show you this, there are some cues there. We know that right angles aren’t natural. There’s a crack. That tells you it’s glass, but you still don’t know if it’s a reflection or see through. It’s only when I show you this that you really understand what’s going on.
Birds never understand any of the cues that we use to tell us where glass is. They take what they see literally. And so when they see a reflection, particularly of vegetation, migrants are always looking for vegetation, that’s where they’re going to find shelter, that’s where they’re going to find food. And they’re just as apt to find a reflection of vegetation in your garden as they are to find the real plants.
[Chelsea Benson] That’s a really great illustration, and I think it’s really important to think about how we learn to recognize glass, whereas for birds, it’s not the same. And that we’re picking up on lots of cues that they aren’t. And those photos were really illustrative of that.
So now that we know why birds hit windows, because it looks just like the natural landscape, when are these window strikes most frequently occurring? Is there a time of day or a season that you and me I only see more window strikes happening?
[Christine Shepherd] You see more window strikes during migration, because birds are in areas they’re not familiar with. Birds are able, sometimes, to get to know about particular local glass and avoid it if they don’t hurt themselves too badly the first time they run into it. But when they’re migrating, we’ve got lots and lots and lots of birds, they’re always coming down between stages in areas they’re not familiar with. So they have absolutely no way of knowing what’s reality and what’s a reflection. So spring and fall migration are the biggest peaks. Although we do get collisions in the winter, and we also get collisions in the spring especially when local birds are fledging young.
[Chelsea Benson] So now that we know when they’re happening and coming through, what do you suggest that we can do to prevent this from happening?
[Christine Shepherd] Well, I just happened to have some pictures to share with you that. Hang on a second.
[Chelsea Benson] I think we can be able to see visuals, and when we’re talking about this is really helpful. So thank you, Chris.
[Christine Shepherd] So there are a lot of different things that you can do. And some of them are cheap and some are expensive and some of them take a little while to install and some of them are absolutely trivial. The important things to remember are one, birds have to see it. But this means that if you had to you could go out with post-it notes and stick them up. And the spacing has to be right. What we’re doing when we’re putting visual markers on glasses we’re basically announcing to birds that there are no spaces here that are big enough to fly through. So the birds really don’t care about the patterns, they’re looking at the spacing.
The pattern is important to us, and it’s what makes us happy with whatever we’ve done with our windows. So I’m a huge fan of paint. Lots of different kinds of ways to use paint. Lots of different kinds of paint you can use. Tempera is something that you can pick up for pennies, and it amazingly lasts. I had tempera last a year on my windows, even through rainstorms.
You’ll see this window again from the other direction. This is a local chiropractor. Every season, different patterns are painted on the glass. So they have turkeys at Thanksgiving and they have lilies in the spring. This complicated one. Up here was done at the University of Vancouver using oil-based markers. So there’s lots of different kinds of paint, you can use.
You can use stencils so that you can have a design that looks very polished. This was me using a sponge, here the chiropractors again. Decals are another one. This is something that most people tend to be familiar with, and I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard. I put up a decal and it didn’t work.
People are used to glass doors and glass walls that have rows of decals on them. And a row of decals will tell a human being that glass is there. To a bird, a row of decals is simply something they could fly above or below. So you have to go back to spacing again. You have to put your decals close enough together that birds don’t think they want to fly between them. And there are lots and lots of different ways that you can create decals, you can purchase decals. These are all done by artists that are interested in collisions and in trying to make windows attractive and safe for birds at the same time.
And sorry we’re back to paint. If you want to do a large area of paint, there are these things called stencil rollers. The North Carolina Zoo did all of the windows in their education building using these stencil rollers. And you can see it from a distance you don’t really notice that it’s there, but when birds get close enough, it tells them that they should change direction.
Another friendly is another product that a lot of people are familiar with. This started in Canada, but we’re starting to see a lot more of it in the US. Their material goes up like a window film but you rip off the backing just leaving the dots or other symbols. And you can see from the outside, the dots are visible here. From the inside, you don’t notice them very much.
A lot of their materials need to be professionally installed, but they have a do it yourself tape, that’s what this is. That you put up strip by strip. Acopian Birdsavers also called Zen wind curtains. Basically, this is just hanging strings every four inches in front of your glass. You don’t want to put it flush with the glass, because it’s a combination of a visual and a physical symbol. Birds get too close. Their wings will actually brush the strings and they’ll know to change direction.
We’re starting to see larger versions of these. This is a Department of Environment in Maryland put in a multiple story, Acopian BirdSaver. These were installed by using frames and putting those strings on frames and then setting the frames into the socket around the windows. Here, this is a Eco lodge in Costa Rica, they’ve just used twine. So there are lots of different ways to do this. There’s a website, they will sell you the materials if you want, or they’ll just send you plans for how to do it on your own.
Bird Screen. Insects screen is a really excellent way to deter collisions, as long as they’re on the outside of the glass. If you’ve got windows that don’t have external insect screens, you can buy from the Bird Screen company. Screens that hang from bars that are attached with suction cups, and they even have a way to attach these things that work on sliding doors. And again, from the inside, you can see that it doesn’t really block your view.
ABC BirdTape some of you may be familiar with. It’s been off the market for a while, but it’s coming back. There are other kinds of tapes. Tape is part of a continuum with decals. Decals tend not to last very long, have to be replaced frequently. If you’re trying to cover a large area, you have to put up lots and lots of little things. Whereas with a tape, you can cover more ground more quickly. And the tapes that you can find commercially are usually intended to last five, six, seven, eight years, so it’s not something you’d want to use seasonally where you might want to use decals or paint seasonally.
CollidEscape is one of the first solutions that people started sharing and talking about. It’s basically bus wrap. If you’ve ever been on a shuttle bus between a parking lot and an airport, you’ve probably looked through what is also known as CollidEscape. So it’s perforated. You can see through from the inside, from the outside, you can also order this stuff with photographs printed on it and so forth.
This was a huge pane of glass at NASA that they covered with CollidEscape because an entire flock of Indigo Buntings had hit this wall.
[Chelsea Benson] Wow.
[Christine Shepherd] There’s a company called Easyup Shades. You can measure your windows, any size and shape, and they will send you these things with suction cups so that you can just stick them up one very important thing to remember is that anything that you are putting on your windows to try to make them safer birds should be on the outside. The problem of glass is reflections, and a strong reflection can make it impossible to see anything that’s behind the window. So on this window, there are actually several strips of tape on the inside that you can’t see.
Window film with a pattern on it can work very well. Most patterned window film is designed for internal use. There’s one company that makes bird strike film. They’re called Decorative Window Films, I believe. Here is a very successful pattern of narrow horizontal lines that has been put up on a lot of buildings around the country, and it’s been extremely successful. They have a vertical version of it. Not quite as successful because the spacing is a bit wider, but it works as well and they’ve got several other designs.
Bird Crash Preventers are sort of a relative of Acopian BirdSavers. You buy them at particular widths. They come in brown as well as clear, and you attach a bar above and below, so you don’t have dangling strings if you don’t like those. And these work well also.
External motorized shades are at the more complicated end. I’ve always wanted to stay in this hotel in Madrid. But this is one of my windows. You can also buy external motorized shades at places like Costco. This one happens to have a solar panel that drives the motor and I can lift this up and put it down using a remote in the living room. It also keeps the house a lot cooler in the summer. So I’m sold on those things.
If you go to ABC’s site, if you go to ABCbirds.org or if you go to birdsmartglass.org, we have links to the places that sell all of those products. In our downloadable resources, there are what we call flyers that talk about each of those solutions and give you the links to where you can find them yourself.
[Chelsea Benson] That’s great. I love that there’s so many options for people from as simple as painting your glass to adding some more technically advanced options. I do see that people just wanted to reiterate. If you’re going to use paint or stickers or tape, it should be on the outside of glass.
[Christine Shepherd] Always on the outside.
[Chelsea Benson] Always on the outside. It’s a good reminder. And then the other thing that people are wondering about, is there an optimal spacing if you’re going to put up paint or dots or anything?
[Christine Shepherd] Yes, and I should have said that. The optimal spacing or the largest spacing in any direction is 2 inches. We used to talk about the 2 by 4 rule, because many birds will not try to fly through vertical lines that are 4 inches apart, but it turns out this doesn’t work for hummingbirds. Hummingbirds are fearless, they know exactly how big they are, and they will zoom through a 4-inch slot with no problem. So we’ve simplified everything and we just recommend two inches in any direction.
[Chelsea Benson] Great. Some people are asking about how many birds during migration hit windows? Do you have statistics about window strikes and bird mortality?
[Christine Shepherd] Yeah. The statistics are pretty depressing. There was a meta analysis done by the Smithsonian, published in 2014, so they got data from all the different groups that have been monitoring in cities and from museums that get birds that hit windows and so forth. And obviously, there’s a lot of variability.
So their estimate was a median of 660 million birds, but as many as a billion. And because the paper was published in 2014 based on data from before 2014, and because so much glass has gone into the environment since then, and because we’ve learned that monitors aren’t as efficient at finding carcasses as we thought, we really think it’s close to a billion every year in the US alone.
[Chelsea Benson] Wow. That’s startling. Another question that it’s coming, and then we’re going to switch our tact a little bit, is that we know that when we see big glass skyscrapers, obviously those commercial or sometimes residential rate if we’re in a really urban city environment, those might be apartments– Is there a big difference between what the big tall buildings versus our smaller, what we consider residential suburban type buildings?
[Christine Shepherd] That’s another interesting question, and it’s got another answer that people don’t want to hear. Almost 50% of those billion birds hit home windows or other structures up to three storeys. So if you’ve got a storage shed that’s got windows or garage. Most of the rest hit low rise buildings. So up to, in this case, about 17 floors.
There’s a bit of an increment with skyscrapers, but the correlation the glass that is most dangerous to birds is glass that reflects vegetation, because that’s where the birds are. This is like most accidents with cars happen within 20 miles of home because that’s where you do all your driving. Well, birds spend most of their time searching for food from the grass up to the tree line. So depending on which habitat they look for. So the top of the tree line is a good proxy for that.
There are also many, many fewer skyscrapers and lots and lots and lots and lots of low rise buildings. Think of urban office parks, there all those glass buildings surrounded by plantings. Those are very, very bad for birds.
[Chelsea Benson] So it sounds like we should take action in our own homes as best we can and then also be encouraging where we work and where we go out to also be taking these actions as well, as much as we can. So one more question. Are there certain species of birds that tend to have window strikes more often than others? That’s a great question that came into the Q&A.
[Christine Shepherd] There are. Juncos, Yellow-throated Warblers, Catbirds. There four or five relatively common species that are killed most frequently, and that may be a combination of they’re hitting windows in areas where people actually pick up and identify what’s been hit.
I mean, if a Kirtland’s Warbler hit somebody’s garage door, you’ll never know about it. It’s very unlikely to be documented. But these birds may also be more attracted into cities by lights than some other species. There may be behavioral reasons for them to do that. And you can find lists of most frequently killed birds which is depressing our website too.
[Chelsea Benson] Now, it is a somber topic, but it is really good for us to know that this is such a huge thing that’s happening when birds are migrating and just year round, and there’s really concrete and tangible things we can do. So thank you, Chris, for really going in depth with us on the windows. We’re going to shift and I’d love, Becca, if you could talk to us about actions we might be able to take around our gardens, our yards, patios, that we can do in our spaces to meet birds needs during this really strenuous time of year.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. Absolutely just to piggyback on what Christine shared, if you are going to be inviting birds through and in your property, it is really important to protect them. So we want to be able to have our cake and eat it too. We want to be able to enjoy these birds. But we want them to have their cake and be able to stay safe and enjoy on their end.
So whether you have gardens or feeders or bird baths, just always consider the other piece and element of the glass protection on your property. So in terms of your properties, one of the things that a lot of people don’t realize is that fall is one of the best times to plant. So if there are people listening who are like, I’m really excited. I don’t have a lot of native stuff or I have this one pocket on my land, I want to put something in for the birds, or a pot on my balcony, do it now. You can do it now.
Plants really benefit from the warmth of the soil and establishing in the fall, and then it gets a jumpstart for your spring. And you’re that much more likely to maybe get flowers and fruit your first year, or seeds, depending on what it is that you’re trying to grow for the birds. So plant now. Don’t wait until spring. Your plants will like you if they can get a head start on things.
In addition to that, leave what you have. So I know, I know, I know, I am a gardener and I love beauty, but leave it, and try to embrace the beauty of that deadhead seed that’s just withering away and blowing in the wind. I guarantee the first frost or the first big rain or the first snowfall, you will really take a whole new perspective on those dead seed heads, and the birds will be very grateful for them.
Water is a great one, as we already talked about, no matter what climate you’re in. We actually had some very bizarre weather changes as we have experienced in the Southwest last year. Birds had these– there were these major storms that came through, and a lot of the evidence suggested that birds may have starved. So leaving the resources, providing them water, we never know what the seasons are going to bring in the fall and the winter, they can be very unpredictable. So thinking about what you can provide for birds is really important.
If you had a windstorm and you got a bunch of branches that fell down, you can stack them and create a wood pile. These are really helpful near if you’re feeding birds. They like to scurry into those wood piles to get some shelter if something startles them. So wood piles are a great way to kind of create a habitat that both is protection for the birds as well as can be a beautiful structure depending on how you build it and support it.
And then the last one I really want to mention, because this is becoming unfortunately a little more common, there is a plant called– its common name is Heavenly Bamboo or Nandina domestica, and this is a very popular landscaping plant, specifically in the Southeast. It looks a lot like bamboo. It grows very aggressively, and it does have a beautiful berry on it. But there’s very strong evidence that it’s actually killing birds, because it has a large amount of cyanide in the berries.
So if you happen to have Heavenly Bamboo in and around your community or on your property, you don’t need to pull the whole plant out, but please cut those berries off especially right now. As birds are migrating through, you don’t want them to mistake those for edible berries.
[Chelsea Benson] Do you have a place where people can go to find native plants and learn more about what might work for where they live, Becca?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah. And I think you guys have the links, so we can drop that in the chat. Probably the best resource for native plant recommendations is the Audubon guide that you can look up. Enter in your ZIP code, and then it will pull up, not only plants that are recommended, but there is a place where you can select where you can go and find them. So they’ll provide you with a list of nurseries.
And my number one recommendation is to call those nurseries before you visit. All nurseries will carry plants. It’s really important to ask the questions about whether they’re wild type natives, whether they’re selling hybridized natives, if that’s important to you, to make sure you try and get the wild types.
So call and ask. And most of them will carry a certain percentage of natives, but they may not be 100% native. So depending on what your criteria are for what you’re looking for, that’s a really good place to go. Another possible resource is to contact your Cooperative Extension. They’re usually very connected to people that are doing native plants work, and most people who are native plant enthusiasts, myself included, love to share.
And this is the time of year when we’re splitting. And constantly splitting my plants and starting new gardens or just trying to get rid of some stuff, because it grows so densely. So contact Cooperative Extension and they might be able to connect you with somebody who’s doing this work, and would be willing to donate some plants to you.
[Chelsea Benson] That’s great. I benefit from Becca’s splitting her plants, so thank you, Becca. I did want to add that we have a pretty international audience. So if you’re watching and we’re talking mostly about United States resources right now, just even googling native plant nursery, might yield some results for places that are in your country that you can go and look for native plants. There’s a lot of native plants enthusiasts out there, so if you just start doing some looking around you should be able to connect with a nursery near you, and then ask those same questions that Becca just walked us through.
So I keep hearing this phrase back up that messy is beautiful and this really resonates with me as a laissez-faire gardener. But I also just think of it as don’t rake your leaves in the fall kind of leave things a little bit alone, but I feel like it’s more than that. So could you talk to our audience about what we mean when we say messy is beautiful?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. Well, messy is beautiful in lots of different ways. I alluded to one of the ways earlier by talking about how beautiful seed heads are when the snow falls on them or the rain falls on them or they get their first frost. So being able to see the beauty and that dried decaying matter is an aesthetic beauty that I was alluding to there.
The other part of the beauty is the beauty of how much life is supported, and I’ll just give you a very quick personal answer, not too far from this view that you see right now of my garden, the other day I opened my door relatively quickly, and there were literally a flock of 20 or 30 juncos that flew up really quickly. And they had all been in eating the seeds and the plants and the insects and so forth in and around my garden. So you literally will see a beautiful abundance of birds if you choose to leave things messy.
Don’t deadhead the flowers leave them where they are. Don’t cut all of your plants back. As much as possible, leave your leaves where they fall, not only will they nourish the soil as they decompose, but they provide a very essential hibernation space for insects over winter. Whether it freezes or not, there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to burrow under those leaves and be food for the birds both in the fall and the winter as well as going to hatch in the spring and then produce another plethora of insect population.
So leaving things where they fall as much as possible is really important. And I always tell people, I have this to in the spring when the snow is thawed, and I just really want to get in there. Try as best as you can to leave everything in your garden until you have three to four days of above 50 degree weather.
So for the Northeast, sometimes that’s not until April or May. And if you’re in the Southeast, you’re lucky and maybe that happens in February. But just try and make sure that you are giving enough time in the spring from that messy garden that you left for the wildlife in order for things to hatch and start their life cycle all over. So both embracing the beauty of the garden’s natural as well as the beauty of what they provide wildlife.
[Chelsea Benson] And one of the reasons that we’re talking so much about habitat and gardening and plants that we are providing for birds during migration is because that they need these critical spots when they stop. Migrating is extremely strenuous. They might be fattening up before they leave, they might be stopping, and they’re using these habitat spots to find insects and seeds and all kinds of things that are essential for their journey. So that’s why we’ve really focused like this little part of the talk on gardening and why it’s so important. Even in the smallest of spaces just to have some wild to it.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Absolutely. Can I get a short story to that?
[Chelsea Benson] Absolutely.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] I think we’re going to talk about how a lot of migrating birds don’t come to feeders, and this is very true. And so if you really are excited about seeing migratory birds that are not going to be attracted to your feeders native, gardens are one of the best ways to do it. I see warblers in and around my gardens, because they’re coming in to look for those late season insects, and some of them will even eat some of the fruits. So gardening is one of the best ways. Even though we may not see all these migrants, you may get them visiting your garden during their migration.
[Chelsea Benson] Perfect. That’s actually a great segue, because I do want to talk about feeding birds. And before we get started, I just want to mention that the bird disease that was affecting birds of the Eastern United States in the spring, it seems to have dissipated and a lot of the state agencies have lifted their feeding restrictions. So if you’re in one of those Eastern states, I encourage you to go to the US Fish and Wildlife Agency for your state and just check in on that. And we also have an article that my colleagues are going to drop in the chat in the comments about that unidentified songbird illness.
So when we talk about feeding birds, as Becca just said, they get the majority of their food from natural resources. So they’re not really, not too many of them are coming to feeders, but there are some things that we can do to attract them to feeders, because there are some species that will stop by feeders and especially water. So, Chris, do you have any suggestions for feeding during migration?
[Christine Shepherd] Well, I think you’ve covered some of them water is always important. Suet, some birds will come to suet. If you happen to feed mealworms or anything that wiggles, you might well attract migrants that way. But they’re probably less likely to eat just birdseed.
[Chelsea Benson] Right. So just putting out a few of those little extra really fatty things, the suet and the mealworms are fat and protein and then having a lot of water out– not a lot, but having fresh water available and providing good habitat are all probably the best ways, best things you can do to attract birds that are migrating through. But I see a question that comes up a lot is people want to know by feeding birds, will they prevent them from migrating? What do you think, Chris?
[Christine Shepherd] It will not prevent them from migrating, which is great, because you don’t have to take your feeder down. The cues that birds used to tell when they should migrate are really daylight length and also temperature. And long ago at Cornell, some of this was discovered that birds have a strong sense of what time it is in the year and when they want to migrate. And in some ways, you can help them fatten up to take that first flight South.
[Chelsea Benson] So we’ve spent a lot of talking time talking about like concrete actions that we can take. And be really helpful to know when my birds are when peak migration might be occurring in our area. Becca, I’d love if you could share one of the Lab’s resources called BirdCast so that we can think about when birds might be coming through our area.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Sure. Yep. I will go ahead and share a screen here. And while I’m doing that, I noticed a couple of questions about how climate change is affecting birds and migration.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah. So Chris and Becca and our audience, my Zoom has prevented me from seeing anything on this screen including your faces or the Q&A. It’s still working though, so if you see questions– if you see questions in the Q&A, I would love for you to jump in and ask them, because I’m getting some of them in the back end from my colleagues, but I’m not seeing them live. So yes, jump in, and Zoom is giving me a little bit of a headache today.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Oh, darn that Zoom. Yeah, so in terms of climate change, these are very good questions. There are scientists actively working on analyzing bird data to understand how it is affecting birds. And one of the great sources of research that we can use is actually BirdCast. Being able to create imagery to understand where birds are moving, when, is that time changing over time, is some of that influenced bird climate change?
There is no doubt that climate is affecting birds in lots of different ways. Somebody was asking about feeding birds. There is some evidence that hummingbirds in particular maybe are staying further North longer because of access to food and climate, so maybe kind of a marriage of the two in terms of resource availability and changes. There is some evidence that birds are moving further North in elevation because of climate and meeting certain temperature ranges to nest and forage and so forth. So there is no doubt that climate is affecting birds. How really varies by species and by region.
But one of the tools that we can use to answer some of these big questions over time is by looking at where birds are moving, when? And BirdCast is an amazing tool for those of you that haven’t explored this yet to understand that. What I’m showing here right now is what’s called a forecast map, and you can see the URL up here. If you’re interested, just type in birdcast.info, and you can explore their website.
But as you can see, this is the night of tonight, September 14, so this is projections into the future. This is one of the beauties of data over time, is where we can begin to make projections and forecasts, and that’s what this is. So as you can see, if you are in that central band in the United States, you’re going to have some significant movement tonight of birds that are moving through your area. And obviously, the whiter, the patch there, the higher amount or the larger amount of birds that are moving through. And according to this forecast, about 373 million birds are predicted to be on the move tonight.
So this is a peak time. It’s very appropriate that we do migration celebration here in September, because this is when birds are moving. And then if you want to see a little bit more interactive, you can check out the live migration maps. And this is going to cover– I’m going to start it back over actually– we’re going to start it earlier yesterday, let’s see if I can get it. And you can see how this is changing over time. So the red line is the sunrise, and you can see– oh, excuse me, sunset– and you can see how birds are moving mostly at night. Let me pause this really quickly.
So this is actually the afternoon. Let me back it up here a little bit, and we can take a look at the nighttime. I will pause it. So this is about 7:00, 8:00 Eastern Time. You can see how the sun is setting, and you can see where birds are starting to become active at night so this idea of lights and light pollution and light affecting birds is really obvious when we take a look at when birds are moving. So they’re often moving through our spaces at night. About 80% of North American birds migrate at night.
And so we may not– somebody asked a question about whether you can see over here them, sometimes you can. You can sometimes see large populations of birds and sometimes you can hear them if your technology is strong enough. But sometimes we don’t know, because they may be migrating at elevations that are too high for us to pick up. But that’s where BirdCast comes in. And you can use this tool to better understand when birds might be moving through.
And one of the ways I use it personally is if I’m really excited about maybe some of the warblers or some of the orioles or birds that are on the move that I know are heading South, I’ll know which days the next morning to go out and bird, because I can see where the large numbers of birds are moving and are projected to be moving through. So you can use BirdCast if you’re a birder. And you think, hey, are they moving tonight? Maybe I should go out tomorrow morning with my binoculars and see what I can see.
So BirdCast is a cool tool. It’s one that is using very sophisticated radar technology. You can see all of the green dots of radar stations that they’re using to pick up this data. And it’s becoming a powerful tool for us to understand how bird populations are migrating and how that migration is changing over time.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah.
[Christine Shepherd] Chelsea, can I just jump in for a second?
[Chelsea Benson] I would love that, Chris.
[Christine Shepherd] Somebody asked why there’s a problem if birds are migrating at night. And it turns out that most collisions actually take place during the day. Birds are not hitting buildings at night. Light sucks birds into the built environment as they’re coming down from migration, which puts them at greater risk, but it’s when they’re searching for food during the day that they get in trouble with collisions.
[Chelsea Benson] Great. Thanks for clarifying that, Chris.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, and to add on to that, that’s where the light’s out effort is really becoming very important because of what Chris just alluded to. If the birds are coming into our cities at night because of the light and then in the morning they’re looking to forage or to get out of the city so they can continue on their migration, they are going to be disoriented, possibly, and that’s when they’re hitting windows. So that’s why turning the lights out at night is critical so we’re not pulling them into our cities. They’re less likely to move into those spaces and therefore they won’t be as disoriented.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, and I just wanted to add that for our BirdCast, for people that are really curious about that program and learning more about BirdCast and the Lights Out project, we’re doing another webinar with Dr. Andrew Farnsworth on Friday September 24. It’s all about BirdCast and Lights Out. So if you’re really interested in this topic, I really encourage you to register for that program. We’ll drop the link to the migration celebration website into the chat and the comments so that you can go ahead and register for that, because it is a really, really cool program.
And I know that our audience is international and that map is only for the United States, and so that technology is because we can use the data from those radar stations within the US. But that doesn’t work across Canada, because those relationships aren’t established right now. I know one of the big goals for BirdCast is to be able to get data from Canada and they also have a project across different parts of Europe where they would be able to share radar data as well.
So it is a project that hopes to grow and become bigger in scope not only across the United States and Canada, but also across Europe and other countries. So learn more about BirdCast at the end of next week. Well, one of the questions that I saw is, now we know when big migrations might be coming, peak migration, but if you like want to see a specific bird, is there a way that we could find out when a specific bird species is coming through our area?
And there is a way. There’s a program that the Lab runs, eBird, and they create the Status and Trends maps where you can actually look up bird species to see their migratory routes. It won’t tell you exactly what day that bird is coming, we don’t have a flight itinerary, but you can at least see that their path, where they go, and the general time frame they’re coming through, and then, of course, you can combine that information with BirdCast to see when those peak migration times are. So you can use information from those two sites. And then I’m going to have my colleagues put that eBird status and trends in the chat so you can look by species to learn about those birds, and that is a project that is not just across the United States, but is international in scope.
So, Becca, I see a gardening question here for you. When to clean up in the spring, you said to look for those 50 degree days. But do you mean like 50 overnight or 50 during the day, which is 10 degrees Celsius?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, ideally you want it to be about 50 at night. That said, if the daytime is above 50 and you’re getting close to 40s at night for consecutive days, so we’re not talking the first night, we’re talking about consecutive days where that ground is able to thaw, that’s when you want to wait. So ideally at night, but as long as you’re approaching that 40 degree and then the daytime is 50 or above, you should be OK to begin your cleanup.
And I know in the Northeast that was in April this year, because I was watching very closely and the minute we had a week that looked like it was going to be gorgeous, I was out and getting to work. So even in the northern regions, it’s usually somewhere in the April. Very rarely May but sometimes May. It’s usually April.
[Chelsea Benson] Great. So I see a question that somebody submitted to me prior to the webinar. They emailed me, and this isn’t about fall migration, but it’s about helping birds during the winter seasons and providing roosting spots. So, Becca, do you have any suggestions about roosting for birds that are more of our permanent residents?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, that’s a really good question. I’m so glad you’re asking it, because I saw another question in the Q&A that relates to this in terms of climate change and being able to help birds when there’s these freak storms. So whether it’s a really cold winter or wet winter and/or freak storms, any kind of structure that you have put up in the spring for nesting like nest boxes, if you have snags, or if you just have a plethora of maybe evergreen trees, all of these can be used and are used by birds for shelter.
You do not need to stop them. Birds have that natural downy stuffing themselves, so they don’t necessarily need physical stuffing but anything that allows them to get out of the elements and hunker down. And if they just snuggle in right next to a spruce or a pine, they’re going to have that capacity to get out of that wind in those elements. They’re very adept at surviving, whether they’re migrants or resident birds.
Now, migrant birds, that said, they can be a little more susceptible to these cold systems that sometimes move through, and many people probably remember that the birds were literally dropping out of the sky in the Southwest last fall because of a lot of factors. Many of them were pushed away because of the fires that were happening, and then there was a very cold front– a very big cold front that came through in regions that don’t normally see those kinds of cold temperatures, and the birds struggled to find enough food and to get out of those elements.
So yes, anything you can do to feed birds whether it’s with your yards or feeders and then providing those structures that you don’t need to insulate them but just providing them, leaving them out. I don’t bring my nest boxes in the winter, some people do. I leave them out so the birds can use them if they need them.
[Chelsea Benson] I see there’s a lot of questions about wildfires and hurricanes and impacts on bird migration. I don’t know if any of us feels like an expert on this area, besides what you just said back, like those things are all impacting migrating birds. Chris, did you have anything to add about those natural phenomenon and how they might impact bird migration? I can’t see you.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] We might have lost Chris.
[Christine Shepherd] Did I disappear?
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] There you are.
[Christine Shepherd] No, I wasn’t trying to answer that. I mean, I think Chelsea what you said. The long term impacts are going to take time to understand, although we are now knowing that birds are moving to follow the plants that they depend on or they may be triggered to migrate too soon, and then they wind up someplace and there’s no food. So there are a lot of concerns. Not just individual storms but climate change in general. But it’s a very complicated answer.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, it is and it is so dependent on region and bird species, weather patterns, so it’s just something I think that we’re studying and learning as much as we can as best we can. But sometimes it takes decades to figure this out. So, Chris and Becca, I, because I can’t see the Q&A like I want to, do you see any questions that are popping up that you would like to address?
[Christine Shepherd] I did but I’ve forgotten what they are.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] There were some questions.
[Christine Shepherd] Oh, somebody asked if they should report collisions. And that can be very helpful. There are a couple of ways to do that. New York City Audubon has what they call “dBird,” which is a takeoff on eBird obviously. And in Toronto, FLAP, the Fatal Light Attraction Program, has what they call Flap Mapper. In both cases, you can report a bird, in some cases you simply take a photograph and upload it and that will get mapped. And that’s very helpful when you’re trying to figure out which buildings are the priorities for fixing or which–
Somebody’s also asked which sides of the building are most dangerous. That’s a really common question, and there is no correlation, because birds aren’t hitting these buildings while they’re flying north, south. They’re hitting the buildings when they’re traveling around looking for food, so it’s that correlation with windows and reflections of vegetation that make the glass the most dangerous.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, and I’m seeing some questions. We do have a group of people that are living in more urban environments and they’re asking about windows. And let’s say they live in a facility where they can’t access the outside of their windows. Chris, is it better to do something on the inside that may minimize the likelihood even if they can’t actually get on the outside of the windows to protect them?
[Christine Shepherd] Yeah, that’s a serious issue. I’ve been trying to reach out to the National Window Washers Association, because in some places window washers are starting to install decals and Acopian BirdSavers and things like that on the outside of windows. There’s never anything wrong with giving it a try. And if you want to know if it’s likely to work, stick something on the inside of the glass and then go outside and look to see if you can see it. And look at different times of the day, early morning, late afternoon. If you can see it, birds can see it. So then you just want to make that signal something that’ll tell birds not to keep flying straight forward.
[Chelsea Benson] That’s great. And what a powerful collaboration to be able to work with the windows washers union. That would be fabulous.
[Christine Shepherd] Yeah.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] And for other people that are in the city, if you do feed birds already, one of the things I might recommend that you trying is provide maybe a different– maybe mealworms, another kind of a protein source that might be more familiar to migratory birds that are not always but many of them are insect eaters. So let’s say you’re feeding seeds but you’re really not going to be able to support say an Oriole. Orioles don’t really eat seeds they made some fruit and mostly insects, so try maybe putting some different things out during migration, specifically, because if a bird does get stuck and disoriented and they find something familiar, that might be just the energy pack. And we haven’t talked about that.
One of the reasons we talk about food for migration is because this is an energy intensive. It’s the most energy intensive thing that birds will do. If they are migrants, they load up on calories and they inevitably have to stop at different points to resupply those calories. Because these birds are flying for hours and hours and hours at a time, and sometimes they’re only landing for an hour in order to get something quick, a quick snack, and then they’re off again. Because they’re following the stars and the sun and the weather, and they need to have all of those lining up for them when they make these pushes, which is oftentimes why birds push at the same time. They’re following a front and they’re following sunrise and sunset. So it’s really important to think about that as a human, this is an energy-intensive time for them, so anything we can do to supply them even in their short stops in and around our communities is really helpful.
[Chelsea Benson] Absolutely. And I saw somebody who had asked those extra things like the mealworms and the suet, are those things that you should only put out in the fall or spring migration. And some people put those resources out year round I know that mealworms can be really helpful and during the nesting season for bluebirds and other birds that really like insects. So yes, you can switch it up. You can put different food types out all year round. It’s up to you.
My friends, do you see any more questions before we wrap up our program today? Or any last words you wanted to say about gardening or windows or lights out?
[Christine Shepherd] They’re all important and they’re all things you can do something about collisions. It’s one of the very few environmental issues where any person can make a difference. So you don’t have to just go off and feel depressed, but you can actually take action on local glass. So that’s important to remember. And something to do with your kids too.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah. I echo that, Christine. This is one of the reasons I love these topics. These things like windows and gardens and all those choices that we can make in and around our little slice of our homes, they matter. And it’s a lot less frustrating to focus your energy there than say trying to get your building to put in native plants or trying to get your city to turn off the lights. This is something tangible that you can do. All those other efforts are important too, but they can be exhausting.
[Christine Shepherd] Wow.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Yeah, and these are the things that can matter. And one more thing we were going to say but we forgot, if you have flood lights, so that’s another thing that you can do on your property, turn those flood lights off. Just like major cities that will pull birds in. So think of migration time as a let’s turn the lights out and give the birds the best chances they can to get where they’re going.
[Chelsea Benson] Right. Thank you for circling back to that. That’s a really important point. We’re not talking about the little solar lights we read about just like those big bright lights that might be on all night if you have those around your house. It’s really great to turn them off. You can look at that BirdCast forecast and dim your lights.
[Christine Shepherd] But one motion sensors. It’s a better security thing, because people can’t predict where the shadows are.
[Chelsea Benson] That’s you. Well, thank you, Becca and Chris. It was really lovely talking with you both for the last hour. I really appreciate the time you both took to join us today.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Absolutely Thank you, Chelsea for having us.
[Christine Shepherd] Thank you, Chelsea.
[Chelsea Benson] Yeah, and I want to thank our audience. It was really great to see your questions. Well, I couldn’t see them, but Becca and Chris to see your questions and for my coworkers in the back to relay them to me. I want to thank you all for tuning in and doing what you can to help out during this really strenuous time of their life. So thank you all for joining us.
If you want to see the recording of this, please go to our migration celebration website, we’ll have the recording posted by tomorrow afternoon. You can find more programs to join, and you can also find really great resources that will really enrich this migration season for you. So please go check out that website and find something that you’re really interested in and learn more about it.
And if you enjoyed today’s program, please consider becoming a Cornell Lab member. You just go to birds.cornell.edu, and you can learn more about how you can become a member. So thank you all. Have a great afternoon, and thanks for joining us. Bye, Becca, bye, Christine.
[Becca Rodomsky-Bish] Bye, Chelsea. Thank you.End of transcript
Migration is dangerous—learn how you can help keep birds safe this season. We’ll discuss how to create a bird-friendly environment and help to prevent window collisions. We’ll also give you tips on fall gardening and feeding birds, so they’re in tip-top shape when they fly south. Ask your own migration questions during a live Q&A with expert panelists from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and American Bird Conservancy.
This event is part of our virtual Migration Celebration. Visit the Migration Celebration webpage for the full schedule of events, migration resources, and family-friendly activities.