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Duke researchers hope to make campus building more bird-friendly

Posted June 24, 2015

— A Duke University building designed to be environmentally friendly hasn't been so cordial to birds.

The Fitzpatrick Center at Duke's Pratt School of Engineering is LEED-certified, which means it's extremely energy efficient and promotes the use of sustainable materials. But all of the glass on the building's exterior that lets in natural light to cut energy consumption also invites bird collisions.

Researcher Natalia Ocampo-Penuela said dozens of birds die each year after flying into the Fitzpatrick Center windows.

"It's the building that takes the most bird window collisions on campus – about 74 percent," Ocampo-Penuela said. "People started bringing them to my office and asking me what's going on."

For about a year, she has been leading a group of students to study bird collisions at Duke. They collected the bodies of birds that died after flying into windows and tracked where it was happening.

"It's just a bummer if you walk out of your office on your lunch break and find a dead bird at your feet," researcher Scott Winton said.

Up to 1 billion birds die each year in the United States because of window collisions.

Winton said there are some easy ways to combat the problem, such as putting films or fritting – patterns of ceramic dots – on windows to make them more visible to birds.

Duke plans to add a special film to Fitzpatrick Center windows that includes a series of patterns and colors proven to reduce bird collisions, a university spokesman said. The school hopes to get samples of the window film next week.

"There are so many times when research doesn't result in real-world solutions, but this is," said Nicolette Cagle, a lecturer in Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment.

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  • Jackie Kylander Jun 24, 2015
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    Many years ago had the same problem at UNC. Someone put up black paper cut-outs of birds of prey and the number of birds striking the walkway windows decreased significantly. The sky is reflected in those windows and the birds don't see the glass until it's too late.