When A Bird Flies Into Your Window
what it means, what you can do to help, and how to prevent future incidents
amanda linette meder
Amanda did a good job of talking about interactions with birds, but it didn't cover birds dying. There is no such thing as coincidence. This happened to me on Monday... and I read Amanda's article on Tuesday.
I was sitting on my front swing this week - middle of the day - a young Robin flew over my head, hit the window of my bedroom above and fell, literally, right between my feet. It was a terrible sound. His eyes were open so I talked to him gently... I moved him out of the direct sunlight... we were hoping he was just stunned but he died. It made me want to cry.
What message comes when a bird dies like that?
Hi Heather! Thanks for writing, I believe the article you’re referring to is: Bird Signs & What They Mean though I also have another article titled, Animal Signs: How To Know When They're Real Signs (In Five Steps).
I’m sorry that happened - it’s always upsetting to me when that does.
I’ve personally worked and lived with birds, so I’m happy to answer this question.
As humans living amongst nature, fortunately, and unfortunately, we get to be in the presence of many births and deaths every day.
Everything from seeds germinating in the spring, to mosses dying off or going dormant in the summer, the most difficult death events often deal with those associated with animals because they are most like us.
First… starting with Robins -
Let's consider a few biological factors for why robins fly into windows in the first place.
Robins themselves, in the birding world, are very well known to attack their own reflection, fly into windows and generally get confused, especially in and around their breeding season, which is generally anywhere between April to July.
Think of it as a rut, but for Robins.
I call it Robin Rut.
That's not a biological term; I just made that up. Either way;
In the interface between wildlife and humans, which is everywhere these days, it’s just getting harder and harder to avoid these types of interactions no matter what you do.
When you see decals for windows at the hardware store, they're to prevent things like this from happening, though even still, birds who’ve accidentally ingested pesticides (usually put out by homeowners to take care of rodent “pests”) can also accidentally fly into windows in a neurological stupor. So can younger birds who are still learning how to determine the difference between their own reflection and the appearance of another bird.
According to the Audubon Society, in the first case, it’s a territorial behavior.
But, who are we to judge?
Humans have also been known to attack their own reflections, sometimes to the point of their own deaths, as well.
So while we biologists want to define it and simplify it as territorial, there could be many other reasons worth considering for why a Robin might do something like this.
Why do people self-harm?
Talk badly about themselves?
Run other people off the road?
Drive dirt bikes without a helmet?
Get into fights at bars?
Is it always territorial?
In all these cases we’d say no, not always. So simplifying animal behavior down to one single reason doesn’t really make sense either, as we wouldn't do this for ourselves or other species.
The reason I'm saying this is because it can be hard to tell exactly why this particular Robin did this at that particular moment. Maybe he was sick, confused, or maybe there was a message, which we'll get to in a second.
In either case -
The best thing you can do for an injured bird is to:
Move it out of the sun.
Put it in a cozy box off the ground, away from predators, and where it can fly off safely. An old shoebox will do just fine. If it's raining, make sure there's cover.
Provide a small food and a water source, I like to offer a few dried mealworms myself as a bit of protein for the road. This is the brand of mealworms I prefer; you can also buy the kind for chickens, which is occasionally cheaper at the feed and seed store. Robins particularly like mealworms, as do woodpeckers.
If it’s cool out, warm bedding, an old flannel shirt is just fine, just make sure something you’re okay with them pooping in it before flying off, as many birds will lighten their load before taking flight.
Most importantly, try not to stand over it obsessing anxiously, like I did once.
That just stresses animals out more, so just do your setup, give it an afternoon and trust the process (I mean: hope for the best).
Then, if in your observation you notice a broken wing or that the bird is still alive and not flying off after the afternoon, and you don’t have the setup to incubate a bird, bottle feed it and also provide round the clock feeding calls and monitoring, call your local wildlife rehab center and see what they suggest or if they can take over from there.
Wildlife rehab centers are usually staffed by people not necessarily more knowledgeable than you or me, they just generally have more resources for this type of thing and the space and time to accommodate the unique needs and considerations of all types of creatures.
Most of the time, though, like you say, a bird is just stunned, they eventually fly off and recover, and you'll find yourself returning to your shoebox with an empty nest, a soiled shirt, and a job well done.
If the bird does die though, and you have a hunch it is pesticide poisoning or another type of internal sickness that caused it, try not to ‘return it to the ecosystem,’ if you can.
Pesticides can and will move up the trophic scale whenever the next forager comes along so either bury the body deep enough in the soil that it can’t be dug up (healthy soil microbes can and do break down certain pesticides, though it can take some time) or place it respectfully… in the trash.
what it could mean for you when something like this happens
When things like this happen to me, I normally take it as an opportunity to be reminded of the fragility of life and go make sure to kiss and love on my own loved ones, knowing they won't be around forever either.
When things like this start to happen to you a lot, then I’d look into processing the accumulated experiences into a possible calling, though, you can draw meaning from any experience.
Helping a soul transition into death (mammalian or otherwise) is actually a profession called death midwiving and sometimes experiences like this do build up to point the way of where you then know that is you’re supposed to go next with your career or in life.
Based on your description here, it sounds like you successfully did this.
Death midwiving, also called psychopomping (I know, not the most flattering name, which is why I use the former), is a profession common in the shamanistic community, and it’s basically like birth midwiving, but in reverse and it can be more emotional though not always.
Instead of bringing a soul into this world, in death midwiving, you’re helping a soul's transition out of this world.
And while this isn’t really a problem for animals, people who do this for their calling do tremendous help for their communities.
They reduce the population of earthbound spirits lingering around on earth, helping the living who sense those types of spirits lead more peaceful lives, and they provide restitution for the afterlife, by preparing the living for what to expect in death.
They also make the whole death experience easier for the person dying themselves and for the loved ones who remain who worry if their someone “made it over okay.”
When you bring a death midwife into the dying process, wondering whether someone made it over okay is never a worry.
This is just one interpretation of the reason for an increase in collisions.
And here's some biological notes on robin mortality rates that might make you feel better
If it at all makes you feel better, even if that Robin never hit your window in the first place, Robins and many wild birds overall, have a higher mortality rate in their youth than humans do.
In essence, the mortality scales for humans and birds are basically flipped.
With something like 80% of a Robin's population dying off naturally before they ever get past the fledgling state - from disease, being a snack, accidents, parent abandonment if it wasn’t the window, 80% chances say… it would’ve, or could’ve been something else. Humans tend to have a higher mortality rate in their older age, conversely.
What I'm saying is... try not to beat yourself up! 80% of young Robins will die from mistakes, foxes, and other things like parent neglect all the time.
Either way, if your influence on increasing that mortality rate worries you, you can decrease bird mortality rates in your area in a few simple ways.
Here's how -
Decreasing future window collisions
To decrease future window collisions, get those bird decal window stickers you see at any forest-y rural hardware store.
I have a few myself, and they do help decrease collisions. In fact, I've noticed a significant decrease in the number of window collisions I've experienced since getting mine, and I only have them in a few areas.
Whereas I used to hear that thud a few times a month, now it's more like less than once a year and the collisions that I do get, are now far less lethal, signifying that the birds who do come near my windows are doing so now at slower speeds than before, giving themselves time to stop and land or redirect.
The decals aren't plastered everywhere, you can make them look artsy. Goodbye, thud sound and weight on your conscience. Hello, bird-friendly paradise.
A few tips on choosing your decals:
I don’t suggest the hawk or predatory decals, though they look cool, if you do want the birds to keep coming because you don’t want to scare everyone away, though over time they will learn, you'll have to reteach them every year.
Instead, and if you want to continue being a bird-friendly habitat, I do suggest something that helps the birds both:
Identify there’s a solid surface there
Decrease the reflection back into the forest which can confuse the younger guys
While also not being scary.
I've also found establishing a few window feeders does help in communicating that the “this is a wall" message you want to get across to new birds learning about what windows are for perhaps the first time, all while creating a friendly, welcoming atmosphere for your forest friends.
What has happened here, though horrible sounding and odd that the bird fell right at your feet, is natural, especially for the species you describe.
And while future events can be prevented in certain ways, it's important to remember that impossible to control everyone's behavior and that you may not be able to stop Robins from being the way they are completely, though you can help guide them in a new direction in some sense.
If these types of things start happening a lot to you, signs do point the way, so keep that in mind. Look up the profession of Death Midwiving, possibly volunteering with animals, or just start with this article on animal communication.
People who double as animal communicators can work at wildlife rehabilitation facilities doing exactly this.
And finally, to reduce both window collisions and your impact on the overall death toll on the Robins in your life, decals DO work to prevent future collisions but they may not eradicate them always and completely entirely, because again, you can't control or prevent every young person or bird from making a mistake - either in your own life, or in the wild. We’ve greatly reduced our number of collisions by taking the steps in this article, however.
Bird collisions can be meaningful, they can also be decreased while still preserving meaningful interactions with wildlife.
And if you happen to catch a fledgling on the ground and it hasn’t been injured, you may already know this, but this is normal.
The parents are likely nearby feeding it, watching over it while it’s on its training wheels, so try to not interfere. It’s natural to want to help - but we can’t hover parent! We just have to let nature do its job.
Amanda Linette Meder
PS - I have a background in environmental care and while most of this website is about intuition and spirits, I believe that the two are interconnected and how we care for our environment, is a direct reflection of how nourished we feel in our spirits. If you like posts on this topic by me, please click and share the articles below or sign up for my newsletter list -
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