Songbirds crashing into Anchorage courthouse

Posted: Thursday, June 26, 2003

ANCHORAGE (AP) Dozens of red crossbills have been crashing into windows at the federal courthouse in downtown Anchorage.

The little gray and mustard yellow birds apparently haven't understood that glass is not clouds, fir trees and open space, and have flown straight into the two-story tinted windows of the Seventh Avenue building.

Witnesses said about 20 hit the glass Monday, and maybe 15 on Tuesday. At least five little birds knocked themselves out Wednesday.

To make animal lovers cringe even more, seagulls and magpies have been snatching dazed crossbills and taking them to dinner as the main menu item.

James Byers, the courthouse's property manager, said he has had other problems with other birds. Last year, seagulls nested in fir trees by the federal building's entrance and, protecting their young, dive-bombed people walking into the courthouse.

But he hasn't seen birds hitting the building's windows like this before, leaving streaks and tufts of feathers on the dark glass.

Pam Wolff, a bird responder with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Wolff said it's likely the crossbills are young birds learning to fly. Birds in flight are usually focused on getting the next insect, she said.

''They see a reflection in the window and they think it's another bird and they just hit it,'' she said.

But it's not uncommon, Wolff said. Millions of birds hit windows and die yearly.

She said hanging yarn or putting decals on the windows would help the birds realize the windows aren't open air.

On Wednesday, Barbara Mahoney shooed away magpies surrounding the fallen crossbills. She was trying to collect the injured and dead birds in a box before the scavengers got to them.

''I don't know that I like magpies anyway,'' she said.

Wolff said that in the wild, birds eat other birds.

''Nothing is wasted,'' she said. ''Unfortunately, that's what it's all about. It's survival.''

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