A friend asked a question that I receive annually. Why is a robin fighting the window and what can be done about it?
Robins return to breeding grounds full of testosterone hormones. They are ready to defend a selected territory. A scientist once pinned an orange robin breast feather in another robin’s territory and the robin defending its territory fought the feather for days.
Birds have birdbrains and are not good at reasoning. I suppose that could be said for young men infatuated with a lady friend. The robin’s orange color triggers bird behavior to defend its territory. Reason and logic fade when chemically induced behavior takes charge. To some degree this happens with people in road rage incidents, when population increase threatens our space, or when states or countries want another’s natural resources like food, water or oil.
Living space for birds is a natural resource that can be an important limiting factor worth defending. When wildlife populations have living space reduced by a growing human population and development, essential wildlife resources are in higher demand and their populations decline. Crowding triggers territorial defense. This also happens when a wildlife population increases and forces them to have smaller territories. A number of things can occur including increased fighting, reduced fertility and even genocide. Humans are not the only species experiencing these problems.
Solving the robin’s problem might be easier that harnessing our own hormone induced problems. The robin recognizes its own reflection as a competing male. When it attacks its reflection, the reflection also attacks and they meet fighting to claim breeding territory. The bird is not intelligent enough to understand it is fighting itself.
I have seen pictures of a robin with a broken beak from combating its reflection. At my home a bird fought the basement window. I placed a piece of cardboard in front of the window for the spring and as far as the bird knew its competitor left the area. When it is a picture window, we do not want to cover it for weeks.
Disrupting the reflection might solve the problem. People have hung strips of crepe paper in front of windows with success. The important thing is to prevent or reduce the chances of the bird seeing its reflection by breaking up the reflection. They will even fight reflections in hubcaps and car mirrors.
Cardinals are frequently challenged by their reflection and will fight a window to exhaustion or even death. Hormones in nature niches are powerful, whether in frogs, fish, mice, deer, birds, insects, or people. Fortunately, we have some intelligence to exert control over our emotions if we desire.
Help a robin that cannot help itself when it starts fighting your windows.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433. 616-696-1753.