Saving birds, one window at a time

By Anouk Hoedeman

Glass kills up to one billion migratory birds every year in North America.

I’ll just let that sink in.

Someone asked me: “How is that death rate sustainable?” It’s not – collisions with windows and other glass structures are a leading cause of avian mortality. That’s why I get up before dawn every day during spring and fall migration and go off in search of birds that have been killed or injured by glass they could not see.

2014-09-23 White-throated Sparrow  (2/2) When I find a dead bird – and I almost always do – I take a photo, note the species and other details, tag it and place it in a plastic bag. When I find one that’s still alive, I carefully catch it, place it in a paper bag, and bring it to a quiet place, hopefully to recuperate. If it does, I release it in a safer place or bring it to the Wild Bird Care Centre for further attention. If it doesn’t, it joins the other unlucky ones in the freezer, to be documented and used for education and science.

While it’s enormously satisfying to save the life of a tiny Nashville warbler, and heartbreaking to hold a dying one in my hands, this is more than a morbid morning ritual. As the Ottawa coordinator for the Fatal Light Awareness Program (FLAP) Canada, I’m collecting data on bird collisions and raising awareness because this is a tragic but overlooked problem that we can actually solve if we try.

FLAP is a charity committed to safeguarding migratory birds in the urban environment through education, research, rescue and rehabilitation. Founded in Toronto in 1993, FLAP is a leading authority on bird collision research and deterrence strategies, and the driver behind Toronto’s pioneering bird-safe building standards. Other North American cities have followed suit.

Now it’s Ottawa’s turn.

2014-08-09 Red-breasted NuthatchLast year, a handful of volunteers launched FLAP’s “Ottawa Wing” with support from the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club. Armed with nets, necessary permits and not nearly enough time, we set out to quantify the problem, map collisions using the FLAP Mapper (, and begin the monumental task of making our city safer for birds.

In 2014, we documented 550 collisions by 68 species ranging from ruby-throated hummingbirds to barred owl. We rescued 113 injured birds and collected 340 dead ones; the rest were unrecoverable.
That may not sound like a lot, but the numbers represent just a small fraction – maybe one per cent – of the birds colliding with glass structures in Ottawa. We are a very small group monitoring a few dozen commercial buildings. Many window-strike victims land in places we can’t reach, like rooftops and ledges. Others are snatched up by predators like gulls and cats, or swept up by cleaners before we get there. Or, they hit windows on private residences and other buildings we don’t patrol.
With spring migration underway, FLAP volunteers are back on the streets. We have a lot of work to do – not just patrolling for injured and dead birds, but also raising public awareness and enlisting more people to help us rescue birds and document deaths.

Ultimately, we want Ottawa to adopt its own bird-safe building guidelines, and to see more people make their homes and workplaces safer for birds. One window at a time, we can make a difference.

Anouk Hoedeman is a Glebe resident and coordinator of FLAP Canada’s Ottawa Wing ( or 613-216-8999). Learn more about window collisions at

How you can help

FLAP needs volunteers to patrol hazardous buildings near their homes or workplaces (including Lansdowne Park), transport injured birds and other tasks. You can also support us with a charitable donation to FLAP Ottawa through the Ottawa Field-Naturalists’ Club (

Save a bird’s life
If you see a bird that may have hit a window, please don’t leave it to be eaten by a predator or stepped on by a passerby. Gently pick it up, place it in an unwaxed paper bag and call FLAP at 613-216-8999.

Report collisions
If you find a bird killed by a collision, note the date, time, address and side of building. Please collect the bird for us or at least take a photo so we can officially document the death. Compiling data helps us understand collisions and persuade building owners to take action.

Make your home, cottage or workplace bird-safe
Saving birds’ lives can be as simple as closing blinds, relocating bird feeders, or applying bird-safe film or other collision deterrents to the outside of windows. Visit for tips for your home, or for strategies for larger buildings.

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