Squirrel Eats Bird: A Harrowing Tale

Squirrel Eats Bird: A Harrowing Tale

Julie Leibach
Published: 04/15/2010

Photo by Harold Hague

This past February marked a photographic first for Harold Hague: the shot above of a squirrel sinking its little rodent teeth into a bird. “He was munching away,” recalls Hague, a dental technician based in Tyler, Texas, “he ate about two-thirds of it and threw it down.” A self-professed camera nut, Hague maintains that this photo is “probably the most unusual one that I have” from sixty-some years of shooting.

The back-story, unfortunately, isn’t so unusual. Hague was reading at a table near a window in his house when the bird—Hague thinks it was a nuthatch—flew into the pane, knocking itself to the ground. The squirrel, perched about four feet away in a tree, apparently saw the collision and scurried over. It nudged the avian invalid, which jumped. Undeterred, the squirrel nudged the bird again and then “just grabbed it and took it up the tree and started eating it,” says Hague.
Although Sir Squirrel surely sealed its victim's fate, the window the bird flew into represents the culprit in what has become an insidious, global problem. A vast amount of evidence shows that clear and reflective sheet glass and plastic are the largest manmade threat to birds after habitat loss. A billion birds—at least—die annually from colliding with such material in the U.S. alone, and the toll worldwide is far greater.
The problem stems from the fact that birds don’t perceive glass (or transparent plastic--think sound walls) as a barrier (although, some birds such as city-dwelling pigeons seem more immune, likely because they’ve become accustomed to their environment). Enticed by the reflection of sky or nearby foliage in mirrorlike panes, or tricked by a transparent pane that looks like a way to vegetation inside a building, for example, birds fly into windows and knock themselves out—sometimes fatally. What’s more, glass is an indiscriminate killer, culling the weak and fittest alike.
So why aren’t some of us more aware of the problem? In part, because if we don’t hear the crash and if we don’t see the felled bird, it can be scavenged—say, by an opportunistic squirrel. And what’s out of sight is out of mind.
An ideal solution to the problem is a glass or window film (that can be applied to existing windows) that birds can see and humans can’t. Research done by Daniel Klem Jr., an ornithologist at the Acopian Center for Ornithology at Muhlenberg College who’s devoted much of his career to studying bird collisions, shows that a film of alternating ultra violet (UV) light-absorbing and UV-reflecting strips could work in deterring birds (they see in the UV spectrum, but humans don’t). Such a film isn’t currently commercially available, however. As for new windows—Isolar, a German company, does sell a product called Ornilux that incorporates UV coatings, but from what Klem knows about the properties and testing of its panes—he hasn’t been able to experiment with the glass himself—he says the product’s ability to deter bird collisions is questionable.

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