Mirror, Mirror, on the Volvo

Kieran Lindsey

Kieran Lindsey | Jun 23, 2015

Ever wonder why a feathered neighbor seems mesmerized by your windshield or side view mirror?

In fairy tales and Greek mythology folks gaze at their reflections out of appreciation for their own beauty. Perfectly natural, then, to assume we’re all birds of a feather and this is just a popinjay checkin’ out the look before he heads out to cruise for chicks.

"I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!" (Gerry Tuchodi, CCL)

But it’s a different story in the avian world (chicks do play a role, though).

When a bird stares intently at his likeness in a shiny surface or makes short, repeated attack dives, it’s not because he’s self-obsessed. It’s because he isn’t self-aware.

The bird in the mirror is an invader. A rival.

"You talkin' to me?" (Teddy Llovet, CCL)

That’s why you’re more likely to observe this behavior during the spring and summer months, when maintaining a territory is serious business. During the breeding season, a guy gets possessive if he suspects bachelors in the community covet his mate. And once there are little ones in the nursery the survival of one’s progeny is at stake. It’s Dad’s job to protect the home front and its pantry. This is war.

But don’t let the skirmish keep you from approaching your vehicle. As a human you’re unlikely to be viewed as a combatant. A temporary truce will be called as you draw near, the troops retreating to fight another day.

"Come out here and fight like a man!" (Photo: Ross G. Strachan, CCL)

In the fall and winter months territorial boundaries break down and male birds rarely react to their reflections with aggression.  The migrants leave for warmer climes and the year-round residents get better at sharing the food, water, and shelter resources everyone needs.  Perhaps you’ve noticed the backyard feeder attracts a larger crowd in January than in July? That’s not just because cold temperatures require more calories, or the sharing of body heat.

Everyone feels less harried and more sociable once the kids have left the nest.

NOTE: While birds can and do injure themselves as they try to intimidate their reflection rival into vacating the area, it’s a less common outcome than when they fly into windows at high speed, misinterpreting the reflection they see as open sky. If you find an injured wild bird, contact your state wildlife agency for a list of permitted wildlife rehabilitators in your area.

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