How is wildfire smoke affecting birds and bees?

Asked September 16, 2020, 12:58 PM EDT

I live in Corvallis, where we've been affected badly by the wildfire smoke, like much of the valley. It seems like we've had an unusually high number of birds hitting our windows. Is the smoke affecting their ability to see or navigate? Is there anything beyond the usual window stickers we can do to help? I've heard that it's important to have water out for birds and other pollinators, like bees. What do you recommend?

Benton County Oregon

1 Response

I do not have a definite answer for you as to why more birds are striking the windows. It's certainly possible that smoke inhalation and exhaustion are having effects on their perception and flight abilities. These fires are coinciding with early fall migration by some species, so it might also be that your feeders and yard are acting as much-needed overnight stops for individual animals that haven't really oriented to what is where, so if something scares them such as an over-flying predator or even the potential for a predator, that their "run & hide" impulse takes them into dangerous spaces. Especially if there are just one or two windows at the center of the conflict right now, consider stretching some of that lightweight bird netting (usually used to keep birds away from ripening fruit) out a little ways from the window so that a bird heading that direction will bounce off the net rather than impacting the solid window. You might also consider hanging a cd or some mylar "scare-tape" in front of the window so that it would increase avoidance by birds. A longer-term fix would be to coat that window with a see through (for us) film that allows the window to look solid to the bird - thus avoiding that attempt to fly to the foliage they "see" in the window. This https://www.collidescape.org/ is one example that I learned about from the American Bird Conservancy and subsequently have applied to one of my "killer windows" and had very good results, but there are other approaches, as well. This site offers many excellent suggestions: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/news/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/
The smoke and associated loss of habitat and feeding opportunities is undoubtedly having effects on birds, both resident (hang out all year) and migratory. There's concern that respiratory effects are another potential hazard for the birds, but clear answers as to population-level effects are yet to come. There's a little about some of that research midway through this piece https://www.audubon.org/news/how-wildfires-affect-birds
Finally, for all wild creatures including pollinators and birds, keeping fresh water available and escape-able (avoid drownings by putting rocks and sticks in the water) is another valuable support resource. There was a recent article in the news on how the smoke and altered light is affected domestic honeybees, and they remind us to plant both spring- and fall-blooming plants now to carry the pollinators into recovery and prepare for the next potential smoke season: https://ktvl.com/news/local/as-smoke-lingers-bees-slow-down
Thank you for your question and for your concern on behalf of the birds and pollinators!