My wife and I have been battling robins at our rural Salem, Oregon home for many years. Almost every spring some crazed robin will obsessively peck at our bedroom windows, which are conveniently (for the bird) located next to a large oak tree.
The robin will sit on a branch, seemingly getting more and more irritated at another robin which has the gall to invade his territory during mating season. Of course, the other robin is his reflection in the glass, which makes it pretty damn difficult to chase the intruder away.
Back in 2003, I wrote about my frustrations with a bird who kept attacking my Volvo's mirrors and windshield. I unaffectionately called him Bastard Robin. Titling the post "Further evidence of male idiocy," at that time I assumed that only guy robins engaged in this sort of behavior.
I'm no expert on bird behavior, but I believe these are the basic facts. Bastard Robin wants to father some offspring. It isn't enough that he screw some sweet young female robin. In his delusional, and seemingly infinitesimal, robin brain, he is determined to be the only male in the whole wide world screwing a sweet young female robin, so all the baby robins everywhere will carry on the genetic heritage of Bastard Robin.
Hence, his singleminded determination to rid the neighborhood of other male robins. Now that makes some sense, I guess. But now the male idiocy kicks in, stimulated by what a character on Ally McBeal was fond of calling the man's "dumb stick."
However, when I went to our local bird store a few days ago to get some advice about how to deal with this year's extra-obsessed robin, the knowledgeable owner told me that female robins also are territorial and engage in compulsive window/glass pecking behavior.
Such is borne out by the best web site advice I could find about how to stop robins from doing this. "Preventing Window Strikes" explains why birds do this and the various options that can be used to deter them.
(Aside from shooting them -- an idea that I have to admit did pass through my mind after the robin started waking us retirees up at 6:30 am, way before our usual rise-and-shine time; but we're kind-hearted vegetarians who believe in a live and let live approach to animals unless they're truly destructive.)
I didn't find that web site until after my wife and I tried several approaches mentioned on it that we thought up on our own. Here's what didn't work for us, and what finally did.
Some years, lowering our bedroom window shades deters territorial robins. This year, it didn't. Robin Version 2011 kept pecking at his reflection whether the shades were up or down. So my wife got a plastic owl at our local Fred Meyer store.
The owl had essentially zero effect on the robin. It didn't take long before I saw the robin pecking right at the owl. So this is when I went to Wild Birds Unlimited for some sparkly, dangling, metallic ribbon stuff.
I climbed on the roof and tacked 20 five-foot lengths about every eight inches to a beam that ran above our bedroom windows. Problem was, the wind would blow the streamers every which way, including up onto the roof and under shingles. The ribbons also would get tangled around each other.
But even when they were hanging down properly, the robin began to ignore them after a brief "what the hell is that?" acclimation period from his perch in the oak tree. Time for another approach.
I dug up some old work clothes and made a scarecrow that, I felt, looked a lot like me. Bungee cords attached the scarecrow to a ladder, raising it to window level. My crowning touch -- which I was sure would do the robin-scaring trick -- was a head shot of a bird's worst nightmare.
But I was dismayed to find that this fearsome open-jawed cat photo didn't do the trick, not even combined with a bunch of the metallic ribbons that I draped on the scarecrow and the window frame. It didn't take long before the robin was darting right past the scarecrow and heading for his reflection again.
Back to the drawing board.
Fortunately, while I was working on the scarecrow my wife was on another shopping trip to Fred Meyer. This time she brought home some various-sized plastic netting for keeping birds off of vegetable gardens, fruit trees, and such. The 14' X 14' package turned out to be just right to cover our bedroom windows.
On a windy, rainy afternoon I climbed back up on the roof and managed to get one side of the netting attached to the eaves above our windows, draping the plastic mesh over nails that I pounded in every foot. Then I secured the other end of the 14' by 14' square to the siding under and around our windows, using more nails.
The netting is hard to see after it was stretched out. Here's what it looked like when still clumped together to some extent.
Looking through our bedroom windows now, the netting is barely visible. This photo was taken when the wind was blowing one of the scarecrow ribbons out to the side (I left the scarecrow up, even though it's robin-scaring value is minimal at best). The netting shows up against the ribbon, but otherwise is almost invisible.
Because the eaves of our house extend out 18 inches or so from the siding, in most places the stretched-out netting is at least several inches from the windows, even though the bottom of it is attached to the side of our house.
The robin has fluttered at the netting several times, but hasn't been able to reach the window. We were worried that it might get caught in the netting. It doesn't look like this will happen, since the bird notices the netting and avoids it. While it was kind of a pain to attach to the eave of our house, the angle this created meant we didn't need to make a frame that would keep the netting away from the windows.
This solution looks like it'll last. Yesterday the robin spent quite a bit of time perched on the oak tree, looking depressed -- like he's lost his purpose in life.
(Suggestion to robin: turn your attention to nesting and chick-feeding; become a sensitive stay-at-home robin dad instead of obsessing over your macho need to chase away male competition. Assuming you're a "he.")
Today I noticed that another robin, apparently the first one's mate, had joined in with some half-hearted window pecking on glass doors on another side of the house. Later I walked by that area and saw that a robin was sitting, dazed, on a stepping stone.
It's eyes were closed, but it was upright. Soon the other robin showed up, making for a poignant moment. The mate hopped around close to the dazed/comatose robin, as if it was trying to get its companion moving.
Must have worked.
The next time I walked by both of the robins were gone. Looking up, I saw one was back in the oak tree, staring at the netting. I was surprised by how happy I was that both were alive. Even though I couldn't stand the window pecking, seeing the dazed robin hurt (probably by bashing its head into glass) got me all sentimental.
These birds are just doing what comes naturally to them. While I imagine that they're out to drive my wife and I crazy with their window pecking, the rational side of me knows this isn't true.
They're just acting like robins. And we're acting like humans. Fortunately, for the moment we've managed to outsmart them, Homo sapiens that we are.