Cancer, window collsions and cats

The Fallacy of “10 Good Things For Birds”

A doctor would never counsel his patients like bird organizations advise homeowners.

A two-packs-per-day smoker visits his doctor.  The patient asks, “what can I do to extend my life.”  His doctor will tell him that he should eat right, exercise, and take his blood pressure medicine, but “if you don’t stop smoking nothing else you do will really matter. The other good things cannot make up for the deadly consequences of smoking.”    

Bird organizations do the opposite.  They give homeowners a list of  “ten good things to do for birds.”   They should say “stop killing birds in your yard – control cats and prevent window collisions. All the other “good things for birds” cannot make up for 1.25 billion bird deaths caused by cats and home windows.” (2-6 per home annually.)

The typical advice to homeowners listing “good things for birds”— such as turning off your lights at home, installing a nest box, providing water and cover, counting birds, buying shade grown coffee – will do little or nothing to increase bird populations as long as the yard is killing birds.

There is no evidence that turning off home lights will do any good. After all, just about everyone does this already. All the research (reduce collision deaths bu 60%) is at large brightly lit downtown buildings

As the graph below makes clear there are only two steps we can take in our backyards that really will save birds.  

  1. control cats
  2. prevent window collisions (a yard includes the home’s windows)   

Even if the list of  “good things for birds” includes “prevent window collisions,” a list delivers the false message that all of these “good things for birds” are equally effective. In fact only two, controlling cats and preventing window collisions, will prevent bird deaths. Very few lists even mention controlling cats and preventing window collisions.

Doing something is not better than nothing.  Promoting “participation” instead of preventing bird deaths undermines the very mission of bird organizations. If bird clubs offer easy options to their members, they will choose them —  instead of controlling their beloved cats and or spending $50 to prevent window collisions.  It is infinitely more important to save birds than to make members happy.

Like the smoker’s doctor we must deliver the blunt message – “first of all, control cats and prevent window collsions.   Nothing else you do will make any real difference.”  

A yard that kills birds cannot be “bird friendly” no matter what else is done in the yard.  Homeowners must start by preventing bird deaths. The best source for information on how to prevent bird window collision deaths is found at

Published by ornithologycenter

I am dedicated to helping birds. I concentrate on making sure they have enough to eat -- and thus promote native plants, and making sure our yards are safe for them -- and thus promote the use of systems to protect birds against deadly window strikes. I worked for national environmental organizations, in the U. S Senate as Chief Counsel of the Senate Agriculture Committee and as a policy adviser in a presidential campaign.

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