Auto Glass Hasn’t Gone to the Birds: Why Avian Windshield Collisions are Common

Birds hitting architectural glass has been a well-known problem for years, but birds colliding with windshields is also a dangerous, common occurrence.

NorthcentralPA.com reports a red-tailed hawk collided with a windshield on April 11. Local emergency services in Turbot Township, Pennsylvania, responded to the scene on Interstate 80 to find the hawk lodged in the driver’s side of a vehicle’s windshield.

In Portland, Oregon, long-haul trucker Dave Duell was driving a tractor-trailer when a turkey flew directly in front of him. Local news station KOIN reports that the turkey smashed through the windshield and struck Duell on the face before exiting the truck through the rear window.

The force of the blow knocked Duell unconscious, and he ended up hitting a small tree. His head injuries were severe, and he had to be flown to the hospital.

Duell has since been discharged from the hospital, and his daughter reports that he is recovering well.

Bird experts offer several reasons why windshield collisions are so common. Unlike collisions with architectural glass, the issue typically isn’t a lack of visibility.

“Unfortunately, infrastructure/development often causes fragmented habitats for wild animals, hence why they’re found along roads,” says Agatha Szczepaniak, media relations specialist for the American Bird Conservancy. “So it’s less about birds not seeing car windshields and more about the speed of the approaching vehicle that happens to be near the kind of habitats and food sources these birds live in, depend on or have access to.”

Dr. Laurie Goodrich, Hawk Mountain Sanctuary’s director of conservation science, explains that in colder weather, roadsides can be particularly tempting hunting grounds for birds of prey, such as red-tailed hawks.

“In colder weather, and we’re just coming out of that season now, the roadside edges are often kept mowed and attract a lot of small mammals, which the birds like to eat,” she says.

If a hawk is hunting by the roadside, that puts them at the right height to be struck by a vehicle.

“Most likely, a bird that gets hit by a car is either on the ground going after a prey next to the road, or it’s up in a tree and sees a prey, and it doesn’t see the car, or it thinks it can move faster than the car,” Goodrich says. “So it’s flying across the road thinking it can get across the road before the car gets there.”

Wild turkeys have even more of a disadvantage here.

“They’re more of a ground-dwelling species with reduced maneuverability and can be seen near roads with tall grasses or trees/shrubs on the side of the road,” Szczepaniak says. “That car collision was likely caused because the turkey was either searching for a mate, nesting near the road, or trying to feed nearby.”

Goodrich says another factor is that birds, especially birds of prey, sometimes ingest contaminants such as lead or rodenticide that disorient them.

Auto glass shops, how many times per month do you replace a windshield following a bird-related incident?

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