Why a red cardinal attacks windows?

A red cardinal.

Cardinal bird attacking window

We were staying at a friend’s cozy house in the woods, and we slept downstairs in her semi-basement apartment.

Thus, the windows were at eye level for us inside and at ground level outside.

The first morning, at about six o’clock, I woke up to a strange double tapping sound that seemed to come from different parts of the apartment.

Intrigued, I got up and wandered out to the kitchen to see if the refrigerator or the heater was making the noise.

Puzzled, I suddenly heard the sound coming from the family room.

I walked in quietly, and to my amazement, I saw a brilliant red bird outside, a cardinal, attacking the windowpanes!

It flitted from window to window around the house—the bedroom, the bathroom, the TV room—wherever there was a ground-level window.

I was mystified.

As I quietly drew closer to the window, I found a clue to the mystery—a female cardinal outside, just a few inches away, contentedly pecking at seeds.

But why was the male attacking the windows?

Apparently, it kept mistaking its own reflection for a rival cardinal and was trying to scare it away!

It was fooled by appearances.

I later confirmed that this was the motive for the bird’s strange conduct.

In her book The Cardinal, June Osborne states that the male cardinal,

“goes to great lengths to ensure that his block of land is safe from all other intruding males of the species. . . . Not only does [he] chase away these interlopers, he has been known to . . . bump against his own reflection in hubcaps, car mirrors, or picture windows and sliding glass doors.”

Then she adds a thought with which we could identify:

“This can be quite disruptive to the peaceful life of a homeowner.”

We found that out, early each morning.

What can be done to stop this compulsive male conduct?

Writer Osborne suggests:

“Sometimes it becomes necessary to cover shiny surfaces to restore peace and quiet . . . , to say nothing of trying to keep the bird from harming itself in these near-suicidal attacks."