Marty Giles

Marty Giles

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The sound brought my neighbors to the sliding glass door to see what had caused the noise.

A good-sized bird was crumpled on the decking just outside the door.

When I saw it a short while later, the bird’s body was nearly cold, but not yet stiff.

The bird’s demise was an opportunity for us to see how gorgeous the animal was. Basically warm red-brown, the back was speckled: up close we could see that each feather had a tiny white fringe and an “eye” with an elongated white heart inside a black spot. The feathers on the shoulders had short white stripes instead of eyes. The tail had irregular lighter-brown bars and a nearly black tip. The breast was tawny with brown speckles that merged into dark, irregular bars on the white belly. From its crumpled position, the ends of the wing flight feathers looked sooty gray. The corpse’s head featured a strong, sharply pointed beak and a few inch-long, narrow feathers trailing back off the top of the head to form a weak crest. The most distinguishing identification characteristic was striking — a loose ruff of fluffy black feathers on either side of the neck.

Yep: a “ruffed grouse” had flown into their window. A male, as only the males have ruffs. When defending their territory or attracting a female, male ruffed grouse fluff up their ruff, pull their tail erect and fan it out, and “drum” the air with their wings. (Who could resist?)

Common throughout western Oregon and in parts of eastern Oregon, ruffed grouse are “forest gleaners,” favoring mixed forests and their edges, and forested streamsides, where they feed on vegetation. Certainly, a house on the edge of the woods could be pushing into ruffed grouse habitat.

Why do birds fly into windows?

They do so usually because they see the reflection of the foliage or the sky in the window, rather than the glass; perhaps they see the dark space as a “hole” in the building they can fly through.

Birds sometimes bang into windows because they see their reflection and think the reflection is an interloper. (Since this was late December, the neighbor’s grouse was seeking to feed or roost in the “forest” hole he saw in the window.)

This summer, I had a chickadee spend several days attacking its reflection in one of my office windows. The defender would hit the glass feet first and bounce off, then it would rest a few moments in the adjacent tree to catch its breath, then try again to persuade the apparent trespasser to leave. The bold chickadee eventually gave up. These kinds of encounters are rarely fatal, however.

Less common, a sick bird, or one drunk on fermented fruit, may also stumble into a window.

According to Portland Audubon’s research, between 54-76% of the birds that fly into windows die from their injuries — which could add up to a billion birds a year in the U.S.

If you find a window victim that seems merely dazed, you can protect it from predators, but do leave it alone to recover in peace. Portland Audubon’s website recommends putting the injured bird in a small cardboard box and checking on it an hour later to release it. (Always wash your hands well after handling any wildlife.)

Such accidental bird-kills are a consequence of having both windows on our houses and vegetation outside our houses. The danger for the birds can be mitigated through interrupting the windows’ reflection by placing decals, tape or dabs of paint no more than 4 inches apart on the window, or by adding screens or reflective film. (For more information, visit )

Such tasks are easy ways to preserve your wildlife: A live bird is always a good trade for a dead one — even a gorgeous grouse.

For information on how you can arrange your own exploration of our fascinating natural history, contact Marty at 541/267-4027,, or .

Questions and comments about local natural history are welcome.


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