Freedom from Danger

Photo © sperry160

Minimize pesticide-use to Maximize diversity

Using chemicals too liberally puts wildlife in danger and minimizes plant, insect, and animal biodiversity. Contribute to a healthier environment by minimizing your use of pesticides. Ask yourself if you’re a responsible user by considering these questions from the Audubon Guide to a Healthy Yard:

  • Do pests even exist – or are you just applying chemicals on a regular basis as a preventative measure?
  • Do you always try non-toxic solutions first?
  • Do you use the least amount of the correct product?
  • Do you read and follow all label instructions?
  • Do you understand the dangers to pets, pregnant women, and children (do you know if any of your neighbors are pregnant, have pets or children)?
  • Do you understand the connection between applying pesticides and contaminating air, soil, and water?
  • Do you know where to dispose of unused pesticides safely?
Chickadees eat a lot of caterpillars

Photo © Debra Breton

It is estimated that 7 million birds die each year from lawn chemical exposure 1. Make kinder choices, and join the legions of homeowners around the country making a good faith effort to minimize chemical use in their yards.

Reel Benefits

Photo © Juli Shannon

Mow Kindly

Lawn mowing can be dangerous, but it’s easy to minimize any potential damage with a few simple steps.

  • Walk your lawn before you mow to check for toads and scare other creatures out of your path.
  • Start in the center and work outwards to give critters an easy way to escape.
  • You can mow less frequently by accepting a taller grass height.
  • Leave your clippings. They help retain moisture and return nutrients to the lawn rather than removing them.
  • Reel mowers really are great. They make you stronger, minimize risk to wildlife, and don’t use any electricity or gasoline.

Mowing mortality

Photo ©

Trees reflected perfectly in windows

Photo © andrea

Wise-up your windows

Windows are tricky business for birds. Estimates of fatal bird collisions range from 100 million to 1 billion per year. Start by identifying dangerous windows. Large picture windows or a pair of windows at right angles to each other on the corner of a house or other building are usually the worst culprits. Go outside near your feeders and look at your windows from a bird’s point of view. If you see branches or sky reflected in or through the glass, that’s what the birds will see, too.

Without changing your windows, you might be able to reduce mortality, at least by resident birds, by moving your feeders and birdbaths to new locations. Bird strikes are significantly more likely to be fatal when birds take off far enough away from the window to be flying at top speed when they hit. When feeders are placed within 3 feet (one meter) of window glass, or affixed to the window or frame, birds may still fly into it, but seldom with enough force to injure themselves 2.

If after relocating your feeders you still have collisions, try some of the following ideas to make your windows safer:

  • Keep the slats only half open on interior vertical blinds
  • Install external sun shades or awnings on windows, to block the reflection of sunlight.
  • Place a wooden grille or vertical tape strips on the outside of the glass, set not more than 10 cm apart, or mark the glass with soap or permanent paint in the same way. (The inks in most markers usually degrade in sunlight very quickly.)
  • Cover the glass with a one-way transparent film that permits people on the inside to see out, but makes the window appear opaque on the outside. You can find information about the best available products on the Fatal Light Awareness Program website. Make sure these kinds of products are mounted on the OUTSIDE of the glass.
  • Install external shutters and keep them closed when you’re not in the room or taking advantage of the light or view. (These can be huge energy savers, too!)
  • On new construction or when putting in new windows, consider double-hung windows, which have the screen on the outside of the glass. Alternatively, you might be able to ask your contractor to construct the window so the glass angles downward and doesn’t reflect sky and trees. Unfortunately, in some cases this may void the warranty on the window.
  • Put decals, stickers, sun catchers, mylar strips, or other objects on the outside surface of the window. These are only effective when spaced very closely—no more than the span of a large hand between them. The design of a decal or sticker is immaterial. Hawk silhouette stickers are probably no more or less useful than any others. Some stickers sold in bird-feeding stores are colored in the ultraviolet spectrum—these appear transparent to our eyes but are visible to birds. Remember: placing just one or two window stickers on a large window is not going to prevent collisions—they must cover most of the glass with the spaces between too narrow for birds to fly through.
  • Cover the glass on the outside with window screening or netting at least 2-3 inches from the glass, taut enough to bounce birds off before they can hit the glass. This can be extremely effective. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology installed crop netting—the kind used to keep birds away from fruit trees—in front of a large picture window next to our bird-feeding garden. The result? No more dead and injured birds. Small-mesh netting is best—ours is 5/8″ (1.6 cm) in diameter—so if birds do fly into it they won’t get their heads or bodies entangled but will bounce off unharmed. You can mount the netting on a frame, such as a storm-window frame, for easy installation and removal.
  • Avoid visual paths to sky and greenery. Bright windows on the opposite wall from your picture window may give the illusion of an open path to the other side. Closing a window shade or a door between rooms can sometimes solve this situation.

Be Fastidious with your Feeders

Birds can become ill from leftover bits of seeds and hulls that become moldy, as well as from bird droppings that accumulate on feeder trays. You should clean your feeders about once every two weeks, more often during times of heavy use. Wash each feeder thoroughly in hot, soapy water. If there have been reports of salmonella in your area, or if you’ve seen sick birds in your yard, after washing your feeders soak or rinse them in a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water. Dry the feeder thoroughly before refilling. Hummingbird feeders should be cleaned every time you refill the nectar, which should be every three to five days.

Also remember to rake the ground below your feeder to prevent accumulation of waste. Moldy or spoiled food is unhealthy for birds and other animals. Bird food scattered on the ground also can attract rodents. Consider moving your feeders periodically to limit the accumulation of waste.

Consider the Cats

Free-roaming cats limit the survival and reproduction of wild birds in urban and suburban environments, and according to new findings, we now know that the mortality level far exceeds what scientists previously suspected. In fact, domestic cats are thought to be responsible for more deaths than any other source of human-introduced mortality, such as collisions with windows, buildings, communication towers, vehicles, and pesticide poisoning 3. A recent study conservatively estimated that domestic cats kill between 1.4 and 3.7 billion birds in the United States each year, the majority of which are native species 4. This is not surprising given that free-roaming cats number in the tens of millions in North America 5. The growth of free-roaming cat populations parallels the decreases in populations of our native birds, which means that an ever-increasing number of cats are preying upon decreasing numbers of birds. Millions of people are making the choice to protect their birds and cats by keeping their cats indoors. Won’t you join them?

Your Cats

Indoor cat

Indoor cats are happy and safe.

Photo © Jack

You can give birds freedom from danger by choosing to keep your cats indoors. Keeping your cat indoors may prolong its life up to 5 times that of the average feral cat 6 and avoids many health problems, such as:

  • unwanted reproduction
  • fleas, ticks, and worms
  • car accidents
  • fights & disease transmission between cats
  • predation by wild predators (such as dogs or coyotes)

Thanks to the Kitty Cams Project, you can see real footage of the day-to-day dangers a beloved pet cat faces out of doors; from roads to dogs, there is no doubt that letting your kitty outdoors is risky business. If you have a cat, strongly consider keeping it inside. If that is not an option for you, consider hunting impediments (like the cat bib) to slow your cat down, and limit kitty’s nocturnal outings. Because cats are instinctive hunters, bells, declawing, and abundant cat food are not effective in preventing an outdoor cat from hunting.

Be aware that even if they do not kill any birds on a given day, just the brief presence of a domestic cat near a nest site has been shown to reduce parental feeding rates of young by more than one-third, which could retard nestling growth rates. Furthermore, when cat models were placed near bird nests for just 15 minutes, researchers found that nest failure rates subsequently increased by an order of magnitude, chiefly due to other predatory birds (e.g., crows, jays) finding the nests by following alarm calls 7.

Neighborhood Cats

Keeping your own cat indoors is a great first step (and we applaud you), but we also know other cats (strays or outdoor neighbor cats) might be in your yard. Stray cats, in particular, are responsible for the majority of cat-related mortality 8. If you are taking steps to attract songbirds to your yard, the responsible thing to do is to discourage cats from visiting as well. Discussing the issue with your friends and neighbors is one simple way to help (for help getting started, click here). Here are some steps you can take to minimize these deadly visitors:

  • Talk to your neighbors about keeping their cats indoors.
  • Place bird feeders away from cover where cats can hide.
  • Place animal baffles on nest box poles to protect nests.
  • Use deterrent borders (pine cones, crushed orange peels, cat repellent, physical thorny barriers like roses, etc.).

Add it to your Map

Tell us how you manage pesticide use, engage in wildlife-friendly mowing, and clean bird feeders. All of these can be set for your site using the info window under the characteristics for your site or individual objects and habitats.

And, if you have a cat, tell us about where your cat spends its time. Do you have a catio? This is a 2016 new object addition, add it to your map.