Stop chaffinches pecking windows

by Tom Albrighton 7 March 2013 Uncategorised

For several years now, we’ve had a chaffinch tapping loudly on our kitchen window during springtime. A quick internet search reveals that many others suffer with the same problem, so I’m publishing this post to share the solution I’ve found. Apologies for off topic, as they say.

The problem: chaffinch window-pecking

Window-pecking happens when male chaffinches mistake their own reflection for an intruder in their territory, and try to attack it. If the image were real, a chaffinch deathmatch would presumably ensue, with the proud victor securing nesting rights for the pyracantha and the loser being mauled by a neighbourbood cat and tossed in the wheely-bin. Since the reflection obviously can’t be killed, the pecking just goes on and on – in our case, from dawn ‘til dusk.

Male chaffinch

Male chaffinch

This results in endless irritation for the occupants of the house and (presumably) increasing pain, frustration and confusion for the chaffinch. ‘Why won’t you die?’, the tormented bird asks his reflection. ‘Why won’t you shut up?’ the infuriated homeowner asks the chaffinch. The reflection is silent, its cognate thoughts unknowable.

Incidentally, it’s worth bearing this in mind before you install a mirror in your garden, which is sometimes suggested as a way to make ‘outdoor rooms’ (please) look larger. In the garden of my old house, a small Cinzano mirror left by the previous owners was a regular target for kamikaze chaffinches. Stick a full-length mirror out there and you’d be looking at an avian Pearl Harbor. (See the RSPB’s advice on garden mirrors.)

Solution 1: masking tape

Having twigged that the reflection was the cause of the problem, I initially tried disrupting it by sticking strips of masking tape over the window. The chaffinch, perched on our neighbour’s fence with a puzzled expression, was stopped in his tracks.

For about five minutes. Then he saw through both the tape and my ruse, and the attacks recommenced – in fact, he expanded his range to include the back door. Feeling chastened for underestimating his intelligence, I returned to the drawing board.

Solution 2: cat picture

Clearly, I needed a more powerful deterrent. Then it hit me. What if we stuck a picture of a cat in the window? Perhaps it would function as a scarechaffinch?

Turns out that the internet is quite a good source of cat pictures. Recruiting my daughter as scariness consultant, I selected the most intimidating mog visage I could find in Google Image Search, roughly cut it out in Photoshop and placed the result in the window.

(Click the image below for full-size version that you can print out and use at home. The original is at Wallpaperscraft.)


Chaffinch deterrent in situ

Chaffinch deterrent in situ

After the masking-tape fiasco, I had serious doubts over whether this would work. Fortunately, it turns out that a bird stupid enough to attack its own reflection is also stupid enough to be fooled by a disembodied, completely motionless cat head stuck in a window pane six feet off the ground. The pecking stopped, instantly and completely.

‘Maybe he would have stopped anyway,’ you object. ‘End of the mating season or something.’ Fraid not. Aware that the presence of the window-cat did made me look rather eccentric, I tried taking the picture down after a couple of weeks. The little pecker was back within minutes and I swiftly reinstated it.

So there you have it. Assuming chaffinch psychology is the same the world over, and it isn’t just our fella who has a problem with ailurophobia, you can print out the same cat and deal with your own chaffinch peck problem. Now all we have to worry about is the day when they evolve superior intelligence, and the final battle begins…

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