Why Are Birds Attacking My Windows?

iStock
iStock

Thwap. Thwap. Thwap. Nothing says “springtime” like the maddening, irregular percussion of a bird's beak rapping repeatedly against your window. But why would any animal do this to itself (or to you, for that matter)?

It's not personal. We promise.

Each year, as the warm weather rolls around, migratory birds like robins (Turdus migratorius) and cardinals (Cardinalis cardinalis) stake out their territories in our neighborhoods. These nesting sites will be where they find mates and make babies, which means that location and security are of vital importance. A good mate-to-be will guard its territory against any unfamiliar bird face—even when that face is its own.

"What did you just say about my girlfriend?" Image credit: Dick Daniels via Wikimedia Commons // CC BY-SA 3.0

To you—safe, if irritated, inside your home—your windows appear transparent. But to belligerent birds in bright daylight, you may as well have tiled the exterior with mirrors. A robin looking at your house sees another robin looking back at him. And then, of course, they fight. (Turkeys attack clean, shiny cars for the same reason. No bird attacks a dirty car. We’re just throwing that out there. We’re here to help.)

Window attacks are different from bird strikes, the violent collisions that occur when a bird thinks your house is the sky and flies straight into it. Strikes are dangerous and often deadly for the birds involved. Territorial attacks are mostly just annoying for everyone, including the bird.

If you do hear a bird strike or your avian assailant attacks too hard for its own good, you may want to go outside and check that it’s okay. If the bird looks all right—both wings in place, eyes focused, able to sit upright—just leave it alone. It should be fine. If you can see some kind of injury, the best thing to do is to get the bird to safety. Use a clean towel to lift it into a dark container, like a shoebox, and set it down somewhere safe and quiet. After 15 minutes or so, try opening the box outdoors; the bird might fly out on its own. If it still shows no signs of recovery, take it to your nearest wildlife rehabilitation center.

If you tend to find your home beset by angry birds, there are some concrete things you can do. For starters, move any feeders away from windows to discourage visitors. Then stand outside on a bright afternoon and check your windows for glare. You can cover any offending surfaces with fine mesh netting or a drop cloth to disrupt the reflection, or apply one-way film to make the glass appear opaque from the outside. If you’re really desperate and have some time (and extra cash) on your hands, you can install shutters on the outside of the house.

Unfortunately, covering one window may simply push your problem a few feet away. American robins in particular have been known to attack as many as 15 windows in a single house. “A territorial bird can be very persistent,” the Massachusetts Audubon Society notes on its site. “The best course of action is to be patient and wait for the breeding season to end [usually around August].”

Hang in there.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

Why Are So Many Ancient Statues Missing Their Noses?

Aninka/iStock via Getty Images
Aninka/iStock via Getty Images

Spencer Alexander McDaniel:

This is a question that a lot of people have asked. If you have ever visited a museum, you have probably seen ancient sculptures such as the one below—a Greek marble head of the poet Sappho currently held in the Glyptothek in Munich, with a missing nose:

A smashed or missing nose is a common feature on ancient sculptures from all cultures and all time periods of ancient history. It is by no means a feature that is confined to sculptures of any particular culture or era. Even the nose on the Great Sphinx, which stands on the Giza Plateau in Egypt alongside the great pyramids, is famously missing:

Full profile of Great Sphinx including pyramids of Menkaure and Khafre in the background on a clear sunny, blue sky day in Giza, Cairo, Egypt with no people
pius99/iStock via Getty Images

If you have seen one of these sculptures, you have probably wondered: “What happened to the nose?” Some people seem to have a false impression that the noses on the majority of these sculptures were deliberately removed by someone.

It is true that a few ancient sculptures were indeed deliberately defaced by people at various times for different reasons. For instance, there is a first-century AD Greek marble head of the goddess Aphrodite that was discovered in the Athenian Agora. You can tell that this particular marble head was at some point deliberately vandalized by Christians because they chiseled a cross into the goddess’s forehead.

This marble head, however, is an exceptional case that is not representative of the majority of ancient sculptures that are missing noses. For the vast majority of ancient sculptures that are missing noses, the reason for the missing nose has nothing to do with people at all. Instead, the reason for the missing nose simply has to do with the natural wear that the sculpture has suffered over time.

The fact is, ancient sculptures are thousands of years old and they have all undergone considerable natural wear over time. The statues we see in museums today are almost always beaten, battered, and damaged by time and exposure to the elements. Parts of sculptures that stick out, such as noses, arms, heads, and other appendages are almost always the first parts to break off. Other parts that are more securely attached, such as legs and torsos, are generally more likely to remain intact.

You are probably familiar with the ancient Greek statue shown below. It was found on the Greek island of Melos and was originally sculpted by Alexandros of Antioch in around the late second century BC. It is known as the Aphrodite of Melos or, more commonly, Venus de Milo. It famously has no arms:

Venus de Milo is an ancient Greek statue and one of the most famous works of ancient Greek sculpture
winduptu/iStock via Getty Images

Once upon a time, the Aphrodite of Melos did, in fact, have arms, but they broke off at some point, as arms, noses, and legs often tend to do. The exact same thing has happened to many other sculptures’ noses. Because the noses stick out, they tend to break off easily.

Greek sculptures as we see them today are merely worn-out husks of their former glory. They were originally brightly painted, but most of the original pigments faded or flaked off long ago, leaving the bare, white marble exposed. Some exceptionally well-preserved sculptures do still retain traces of their original coloration, though. For example:

Lady with blue and gilt garment, fan and sun hat, from Tanagra 325-300 BC
Capillon, Public Domain, Wikimedia Commons

Even for the sculptures that do not retain visible color to the naked eye, archaeologists can detect traces of pigment under an ultraviolet light using special techniques. There are also dozens of references to painted sculptures in ancient Greek literature, such as in Euripides's Helen, in which Helen laments (in translation, of course):

“My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.”

This post originally appeared on Quora. Click here to view.

Why Do People Get Ice Cream Headaches?

CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus
CharlieAJA, istock/getty images plus

Reader Susann writes in to ask, "What exactly is the cause of brain freeze?"

You may know an ice cream headache by one of its other names: brain freeze, a cold-stimulus headache, or sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia ("nerve pain of the sphenopalatine ganglion"). But no matter what you call it, it hurts like hell.

Brain freeze is brought on by the speedy consumption of cold beverages or food. According to Dr. Joseph Hulihan—a principal at Paradigm Neuroscience and former associate professor in the Department of Neurology at the Temple University Health Sciences Center, ice cream is a very common cause of head pain, with about one third of a randomly selected population succumbing to ice cream headaches.

What Causes That Pain?

As far back as the late 1960s, researchers pinned the blame on the same vascular mechanisms—rapid constriction and dilation of blood vessels—that were responsible for the aura and pulsatile pain phases of migraine headaches. When something cold like ice cream touches the roof of your mouth, there is a rapid cooling of the blood vessels there, causing them to constrict. When the blood vessels warm up again, they experience rebound dilation. The dilation is sensed by pain receptors and pain signals are sent to the brain via the trigeminal nerve. This nerve (also called the fifth cranial nerve, the fifth nerve, or just V) is responsible for sensation in the face, so when the pain signals are received, the brain often interprets them as coming from the forehead and we perceive a headache.

With brain freeze, we're perceiving pain in an area of the body that's at a distance from the site of the actual injury or reception of painful stimulus. This is a quirk of the body known as referred pain, and it's the reason people often feel pain in their neck, shoulders, and/or back instead of their chest during a heart attack.

To prevent brain freeze, try the following:

• Slow down. Eating or drinking cold food slowly allows one's mouth to get used to the temperature.

• Hold cold food or drink in the front part of your mouth and allow it to warm up before swallowing.

• Head north. Brain freeze requires a warm ambient temperature to occur, so it's almost impossible for it to happen if you're already cold.

This story has been updated for 2019.

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