Patterns of bird-window collisions – Author Interview

We recently published “Patterns of bird-window collisions inform mitigation on a university campus”. In this study, author Natalia Ocampo-Peñuela, and her colleagues examined the patterns in bird window accidents at Duke University and discuss their findings.

Natalia comments on her research and her experience publishing with us.

PJ: Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

N.O.P. I am a PhD candidate at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment. My native country is Colombia and I have spent most of my life as a researcher studying birds there. My main focus is on endangered and endemic species in the Andes, but I have also worked in the natural savannas of the Orinoco, and in urban conservation projects. I lead the bird-window collision team at Duke University which aims to monitor collisions on campus and advocate for bird-friendly solutions.

Natalie taking measurements

Natalia taking measurements

PJ: Can you briefly explain the research you published in PeerJ?

N.O.P. Window collisions are responsible for an estimated one billion bird deaths annually in the United States alone. At Duke University, my co-authors and I monitored collisions in six buildings on the university’s campus to identify the most problematic buildings and suggest mitigation actions. Through advocacy and with support from the student government, we were able to succeed in convincing Duke University’s administration to retrofit the building with the most collisions (Fitzpatrick – which was responsible for two thirds of the total collisions) by applying a dotted pattern that helps prevent collisions.

PJ: Do you have any anecdotes about this research?

N.O.P. During our 21 days of daily surveys in Spring and Fall of 2014 and 2015, many anecdotes were accumulated. One of the funniest things was observing passing students and their confused faces when they realized that we were searching for dead birds. On a couple occasions we had bitter-sweet stories when we found species that we had never seen on campus, as collision victims. This was the case for Black-throated Green Warbler, Nashville Warbler, and Fox Sparrow.

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

Ruby-throated Hummingbird

PJ: What surprised you the most with these results?

N.O.P. We knew that Fitzpatrick had a lot of collisions because students kept bringing dead birds from there to my office, and we would find them near to the building’s café. But we never thought that this one building would represent two thirds of the total collisions on the study buildings.

PJ: What kinds of lessons do you hope the public takes away from the research?

N.O.P. This research has a rare quality which is, at the same time, my favorite: we show how we were able to identify a research question, collect data in a standardized way, and advocate for the recommended solution to be implemented. We intend to show the public and researchers in other institutions that they can be empowered to change the fate of birds on their campuses and homes. Simple actions of retrofitting or incorporating bird-friendly glass-design can greatly contribute to global bird conservation.

PJ: Where do you hope to go from here?

N.O.P. Our team still has many questions. We seek to understand the weather patterns that cause an increase in collisions, as well as different species’ vulnerability to colliding with buildings. We identified a positive relationship between LEED-certified buildings and collisions and we plan on doing further research on this issue. For Duke, we will continue to advocate for bird friendly design for all new buildings, and we continue to monitor the retrofitting on Fitzpatrick to assess its effectiveness in preventing collisions.

PJ: If you had unlimited resources (money, lab equipment, trained personnel, participants, etc.), what study would you run?

N.O.P. I would take the existing collision prevention solutions and run a study to test their efficacy at reducing collisions at the building scale because these have only been tested at small scales. Following that, I would work with engineers to design bird-friendly glass that would have additional benefits such as energy savings, and unobstructed views. These are some of the biggest gaps in collision prevention and towards where research should move. We already know buildings with a lot of glass cause more collisions, but we still have a lot to learn about prevention mechanisms.

Northern Flicker

Northern Flicker

PJ: How did you first hear about PeerJ, and what persuaded you to submit to us?

N.O.P. I first heard about PeerJ from my academic advisor who serves as an editor for the journal. I was hooked by the fact that the journal is open-access, has a transparent peer review process, and is very fast in publishing papers. Papers like the one we just published are meant to reach not just scientists, but the general public, and open-access was definitely the way to go!

PJ: How would you describe your experience of our submission/review process?

Very smooth. The submission platform is intuitive, fast, and very convenient. The reviews were sent quickly and the PeerJ staff was responsive to my questions and concerns. I enjoyed how streamlined the production line is.

PJ: Did you get any comments from your colleagues about your publication with PeerJ?


People love the infographic! Having a graphic summary of the paper is extremely useful in a world crowded with information. For a paper like ours, the infographic has been very useful to share our results with the general public, university administrators, and students.

PJ: Would you submit again, and would you recommend that your colleagues submit? 

This is my second PeerJ paper in a year so yes, I’ll submit again. I would definitely recommend it too. I look forward to seeing its impact factor go up, which I’m sure it will.

PJ: In conclusion, how would you describe PeerJ in three words?

Transparent, fast, convenient

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