There is no shortage of things that can capture my attention: paleontology, renewable energy, evolution, behavior, paleoecology, futurism, steady-state economies, science communication, politics, skepticism and science, cryptozoology. All of these and more are explored on The Waterthrush Blog.Screen Shot 2018-08-01 at 9.14.28 AM.pngThis page is devoted specifically to research with which I’ve been involved. Scroll down for expanded abstracts of select publications in addition to links to the articles themselves.

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Quick links to recent research (2020–2021):

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Mississippi Kite nestling. Photo by Fidel Atuo.

The purpose of this page is to frame the work we actually do here in the O’Connell Lab. I see four big categories of that work (plus a wild card category #5, because you’ve gotta have a wild card):


I. Distribution, habitat use, and interspecific relationships of wildlife.

Varied projects here that address distribution and abundance of birds and mammals with respect to land cover; interspecific interactions with predators, competitors, and invasives/encroachers.

A. Spatial distributions and habitat use of raptors.

1. Atuo, F. and T. O’Connell. 2018. Scale-dependent resource selection and space use by Mississippi Kite (Ictinia mississippiensis) in a heterogenous mixed-shrub ecosystem. Journal of Ornithology. DOI:10.1007/s10336-018-1567-7

2. Atuo, F. A. and T. J. O’Connell. 2018. Superpredator proximity and landscape characteristics alters nest site selection and breeding success of a subordinate predator. Oecologia. DOI:10.1007/s00442-018-4071-0.

3. Atuo, F. A., and T. J. O’Connell. 2017c. Structural heterogeneity affects raptor assemblages and niche characteristics in mixed-grass ecosystems. Ecosphere. DOI: 10.1002/ecs2.1907.

4. Atuo, F. A. and T. J. O’Connell. 2017b. Spatial heterogeneity and scale-dependent habitat selection for two sympatric raptors in mixed-grass prairie. Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3182.

5. Atuo, F. A. and T. J. O’Connell. 2017a. The landscape of fear as an emergent property of heterogeneity: contrasting patterns of predation risk in grassland ecosystems. Ecology and Evolution. DOI: 10.1002/ece3.3021.

Fidel has been a man on a mission to publish various aspects of his research on raptors and quail at two wildlife management areas in western Oklahoma. For example:


From Oct–Mar in western Oklahoma, large numbers of Northern Harrier (a) and Red-tailed Hawk (c) spend their days hunting for small mammals such as cotton rats and plump birds like Northern Bobwhite quail (b). Both raptors are important predators of quail, especially during the winter, but they hunt in different ways. Harriers course back and forth over the broad grasslands, quickly dropping down on unsuspecting prey. Redtails are sit-and-wait predators that perch and scan for hours before darting out to chase their quarry. As a result, redtails tend to forage in grasslands that have abundant perches or are in proximity to woodlands. Harriers are not limited to perches in or near their grasslands and, if anything, avoid woodlands. The two raptors tend to co-occur at broad scales but segregate at finer scales.

This segregation in habitat use is evident in the land cover analysis of predicted habitat use that Fidel developed for the Beaver River Wildlife Management Area. This WMA is dominated by grasslands and sand sagebrush, with the only significant availability of trees along the Beaver River.

In contrast, small stands of hybrid shinnery/post oak create a network of perches suitable for redtails distributed throughout the Packsaddle WMA. Redtails can access much more of the grassland area from their concealed perches at Packsaddle WMA than they can at the Beaver River WMA. As a result, overlap in habitat use is higher at Packsaddle than it is at Beaver River. In other words, most of Beaver River WMA exposes quail to predation pressure from one or the other of these predators. At Packsaddle WMA, most of the land area exposes quail to a compounded risk of predation from both predators. This is a beautiful example of landscape structure (the pattern of trees and grass) shaping landscape function (habitat use of the same two species varies with structure).

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In the figure above, black squares and red circles indicate habitat selection by redtails and harriers, respectively. At Packsaddle WMA (a), the two predators overlapped in four or five of these land cover types. In general, the plotted coefficients are also fairly close to 0.0, indicating that both species made use of most of the land covers. At three of those (indicated by the orange ellipticals) co-occurrence of the predators was associated with elevated mortality in quail.

At Beaver River WMA (b), redtails and harriers overlapped in just one or two of the land cover types, and there was a big difference in harrier selection for grass cover and pasture, which were both avoided by redtails. It was only in the bare ground category that quail mortality was elevated; again associated with the presence of both predators.


Areas in red at Beaver River (above left) and Packsaddle (above right) indicate significant overlap in habitat selection for Northern Harrier and Red-tailed Hawk, and elevated mortality for Northern Bobwhite. Fidel’s work suggested that targeted, fine-scale management at Packsaddle WMA could limit hunting access to redtails over such a large area of the WMA, thereby reducing predation pressure on quail.


In other analysis, Fidel examined breeding season distribution of raptors. Using his data from Packsaddle WMA, he first confirmed a breeding density of Mississippi Kite among the highest ever recorded for the species. The distribution of nests was unusual though, because Mississippi Kites are primarily denizens of riparian forest throughout their breeding range, but they strongly avoided riparian forests at Packsaddle. Comparison of important nest predators of kites revealed the likely answer: Red-tailed Hawks and Great Horned Owls nested primarily in the riparian forests. By the time kites return to breed in early May, the hawks and owls have already colonized the riparian forests. The upland hybrid shinnery/post oak at Packsaddle provides an opportunity for kites to nest in relative safety from the hawks and owls.


6. Pinkerman, C. W., T. J. O’Connell, and A. S. Arena. 2017. Uncertainty analysis of avian approach to remote thermal updraft detection for unmanned aerial vehicles. AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, AIAA SciTech Forum, (AIAA 2017-1190)

7. Pinkerman, C. W., T. J. O’Connell, and A. S. Arena. 2016. Comparisons between avian and unmanned aerial vehicle approach to thermal updraft detection. AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference, AIAA SciTech Forum, (AIAA 2016-1288)

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Cody Pinkerman was an aerospace engineering student who wanted to take lessons from Turkey Vultures that he could apply to the design and operation of unmanned aerial vehicles. Cody was most interested in the process soaring raptors use to find the *next* thermal. The idea is that if UAVs could more efficiently find and take advantage of lift in rising columns of air their fuel efficiency and flight time to be increased. Cody tested a battery of potential physical effects to detect and orient toward adjacent thermals, none of which worked. This means they they’re probably irrelevant to vultures, too: if the physical property being tested does not deliver a consistent signal then it’s equally useless whether detected by a UAV or a vulture.

So how do vultures find that next thermal? We don’t know, but I suspect it has a lot to do with watching other vultures on the horizon, in concert with features that produce orographic lift (like in the photo above) and things like albedo from the pattern on the ground. The subjective experience that it takes to master efficient soaring in a live bird includes things that are quite difficult to engineer into a UAV, and would probably require on-board artificial intelligence.

8. Steele, M. and T. J. O’Connell. 2010. Effects cold front passage on migrant raptors at Shirakaba Pass, Nagano Prefecture, Japan, Autumn 2000–2009. Published abstract in the 6th International Conference on Asian Raptors, Asian Raptor Research and Conservation Network, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.

9. George, A. D. and T. J. O’Connell. 2009. Breeding Burrowing Owls in North Central Oklahoma. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society 42: 1–3.

10. McConnell, S., T. J. O’Connell, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2008. Land cover associations of breeding habitat for three sympatric Buteos in shortgrass prairie. The Wilson Journal of Ornithology 120: 708–716.

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In our far western Panhandle, arable soils in the center of the country are almost completely developed for both irrigated and dryland crop production. Within the patchwork of fields, many sections have also been retired from crop production and enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, planted in monocultures of Old World bluestem. Outside this central part of the county, the terrain is more rugged and characterized by shortgrass prairie of gramas, buffalograss, and yucca.

Scott McConnell surveyed thousands of points in this region and specifically identified as many nests as he could of the three breeding Buteo hawks in Cimarron County: Red-tailed, Ferruginous, and Swainson’s. Scott found strong differences in habitat selection, with Red-tailed Hawk dominating riparian forests in the prairies, Swainson’s Hawk dominating in the cropland landscapes in the center of the county, and the rarer Ferruginous Hawk in the prairies but outside the riparian forest strips.



B. Distribution and habitat use of other birds and mammals (i.e., raptor food)

1. Jaffe, N., T. O’Connell, and J. Giocomo, 2017. Utility of fine resolution land cover data for modeling Northern Bobwhite abundance in the Oaks and Prairies of Oklahoma. National Quail Symposium Proceedings: Vol. 8, Article 41:

2. Atuo, F. A., T. Ivande, J. W. Zingfa, S. Manu, and T. J. O’Connell. 2016. Current distribution, breeding population and habitat use of the globally threatened Grey-necked Picathartes Picathartes oreas in south-east Nigeria: a call for conservation action. Ostrich: Journal of African Ornithology: DOI: 10.2989/00306525.2016.1179229

3. Atuo, F. A., N. Hillis, and T. O’Connell. 2014. Photographic confirmation of Scaled Quail in Ellis County. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society 47: 1–4.

4. Monroe, A. P., and T. J. O’Connell. 2014. Winter bird habitat use in a heterogeneous tallgrass prairie. American Midland Naturalist 171: 97–115.

Somewhat like The Proclaimers, Adrian walked hundreds of miles in flush count transects at the Tallgrass Prairie Preserve in Osage County in a bid to determine habitat selection for secretive wintering birds.


We presumed that the patch-burn system of land management applied at the Preserve would restrict Sedge Wrens and LeConte’s Sparrows to patches that had not been burned and bison-grazed for 2–3 years. Smith’s Longspur we expected to be dependent on more recently burned and grazed patches, and Savannah Sparrow was the wild card. We were right about the latter species: No models predicted Savannah Sparrow abundance very well, and flocking Smith’s Longspurs were generally restricted to patches burned and grazed within the previous year. The former two species, however, held a surprise.

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Due to a combination of heterogeneity within patches and vegetation growth in the months since even the current year burns, Adrian found that fine-scale vegetation height in Dec.–Jan. 2009 (gray bars above) and 2010 (darker gray bars) was similar regardless if the most recent fire occurred 12, 24, or 36 months prior. This is important because fine-scale vegetation height was by far the best predictive variable for LeConte’s Sparrow and Sedge Wren. (Note that this result was highly scale dependent: broad-scale association with “tallgrass prairie” would have been the likely top predictor with a study extent at continental or ecoregion size. In this case, all surveys were conducted in a 40,000-acre matrix of tallgrass prairie.)

5. Cavalieri, V. S., T. J. O’Connell, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2011. Cerulean Warbler occurrence and habitat use in Oklahoma. Southeastern Naturalist 10: 167–177.

6. Cavalieri, V. S., T. J. O’Connell, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2009. A bird community on the edge: Habitat use of forest songbirds in eastern Oklahoma. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics: 118–127.


For his master’s research, Vince Cavalieri climbed up and down the long east-west ridges of the Ouachitas, over and around the low hills of the Ozarks, and tracked down historical locations in steamy floodplains, all to determine the status of Cerulean Warbler as a breeding bird in Oklahoma and to better understand the bird communities of our state’s forested southeast. This is a fascinating part of the country because forested eastern Oklahoma is where multiple species of “eastern forest” birds reach the western edge of their breeding distribution. That edge, however, varies with species. For example, Ovenbird, Scarlet Tanager, and Wood Thrush are generally restricted to eastern Oklahoma; Acadian Flycatcher and Kentucky Warbler can be found breeding farther west in central Oklahoma; and Louisiana Waterthrush and Black-and-white Warbler breeding in riparian zones almost to the Oklahoma Panhandle.

After Oklahoma ornithologists failed to detect breeding Cerulean Warbler during our state’s breeding bird atlas, it was feared that the species was extirpated. Vince confirmed that, although greatly reduced in occurrence, Ceruleans still do occur on isolated ridges in the Ouachita Mountains.

7. McConnell, S., T. J. O’Connell, D. M. Leslie, Jr., and J. S. Shackford. 2009. Mountain Plovers in Oklahoma: distribution, abundance, and habitat use. Journal of Field Ornithology 80: 27–34.

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Unlike just about everywhere else in its range where it nests almost exclusively on prairie dog towns, in Oklahoma the Mountain Plover nests almost exclusively on plowed fields. In our far western Panhandle, it is clay loam soils that support cereal grain agriculture these days, as the sandier soils are generally too susceptible to wind erosion and we’d like to avoid another Dust Bowl. We have records of Mountain Plovers nesting in crop fields in the middle of Cimarron County going back to the 1920s, but Scott’s was the first study to demonstrate that they’re actually selecting these fields over what would elsewhere in their range be perfectly suitable prairie dog towns. Scott’s systematic surveys found the previously undocumented breeding population in Texas County, too. Most stunning to me, however, is the tight association between a breeding bird distribution and a specific soil type.

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Can you find all seven Mountain Plovers in this photo by Scott McConnell?

8. Van Els, P., C. Walker, and T. O’Connell. 2009. Capture of a pure Gray-headed Junco (Junco hyemalis caniceps) in Payne County. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society.

9. McConnell, S., J. Shackford, T. O’Connell, and D. Leslie, Jr. 2006. Unusual Oklahoma breeding records from Cimarron County, 2004–2005. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society.

10. Mahan, C. G. and T. J. O’Connell. 2005. Small mammal assemblages along a gradient of disturbance in suburban parks. Northeast Naturalist 12: 307­–314.

11. McConnell, S., J. Shackford, T. O’Connell, and D. Leslie, Jr. 2005. First confirmed breeding for Mountain Plover (Charadrius montanus) in Texas County, Oklahoma. Bulletin of the Oklahoma Ornithological Society 38: 12–14.

12. O’Connell, T. J. and R. A. Beck. 2003. Gull predation limits nest success of terns and skimmers on the Virginia barrier islands. Journal of Field Ornithology 74: 66–73.


Beach-nesting terns and skimmers face the double-whammy of storm tide flooding and nest raids by gulls. Neither Herring nor Great Black-backed gulls nested historically on the Virginia Coast. As their numbers increased (presumably due to higher survivorship from foraging on human food waste) they expanded their breeding range south along the Atlantic Coast. On Virginia barrier islands, the gulls take the higher spots for their nests, relegating the terns and skimmers to lower areas more likely to flood. Nesting in proximity to the gulls might make a tern or skimmer nest a bit safer from the risk of flooding, but it greatly increases the risk of nest predation. The only thing that could make this worse for terns and skimmers would be an increase in sea level, but that would never . . . oh wait.


The O’Connell Lab is an important partner in field sampling and analysis for breeding birds in central Oklahoma through our long-term collaboration with the Oaks and Prairies Joint Venture.

C. Avian responses to invasive and encroaching species

1. George, A. D., T. J. O’Connell, K. R. Hickman, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2013a. Food availability in exotic grasslands: A potential mechanism for depauperate breeding assemblages. Wilson Journal of Ornithology 125: 526–533.

2. George, A. D., T. J. O’Connell, K. R. Hickman, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2013b. Use of seeded exotic grasslands by wintering birds. The Prairie Naturalist 45: 77–83.

3. George, A. D., T. J. O’Connell, K. R. Hickman, and D. M. Leslie, Jr. 2009. Influence of old world bluestem (Bothriochloa ischaemum) monocultures on breeding density of three grassland songbirds in Oklahoma. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics: 691–697.

Prior to his current gig as an Assistant Professor at Pittsburg State University in Kansas and his PhD at the University of Missouri, Andy George worked on grassland birds in fields of native grasses compared to grassland birds in monocultures of the introduced grass, Old World bluestem. He found big differences for breeding and wintering birds.



Of the common grassland breeders we found in these fields, Grasshopper Sparrow was an anomaly in that it occurred at nearly twice the density in the Old World bluestem fields than it did in the native grass fields. Andy’s invert sampling indicated that overall biomass of insects was higher in the native grass fields, especially the abundance of key prey orders of grasshoppers, beetles, and true bugs. This raises the possibility that Old World bluestem fields are ecological traps for Grasshopper Sparrow, i.e., they are attracted to something that provides less of what they need, but additional work will be required to tease this out.


Smith’s Longspur, photo by Matty Hack.

Andy surveyed the same field during winter. Although abundance of some species did not differ between Old World bluestem and native grass fields, only one (American Tree Sparrow) was more abundant in native fields. In contrast, Smith’s Longspur, Savannah Sparrow, Short-eared Owl, and Northern Harrier were actually more abundant in the Old World bluestem fields.


4. Heinen, J. R. and T. J. O’Connell. 2009. The influence of invasive eastern redcedar on densities of breeding warblers in cross timbers forest. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics: 698–704.


Three breeding warblers in cross timbers forests of central Oklahoma exhibit different sensitivities to eastern redcedar encroachment. Kentucky Warbler showed the lowest tolerance, only breeding in sites with negligible cedar. Black-and-white Warbler was more tolerant of cedar, but its highest densities were found under little or no cedar invasion. Louisiana Waterthrush was the most tolerant of the three species, with highest densities observed where redcedar cover was greatest.


II. Anthropogenic mortality of native birds and mammals.

Collisions with human infrastructure, human attitudes toward wildlife harvest, and other unintended consequences of human activity. This work includes my long-term study of window collision mortality in birds, for which daily updates can be found at Avian Window Kills. Marty Piorkowski’s work on bird and bat mortality from wind turbines is here as well. The last big section is Fidel’s work in Nigeria to address cultural attitudes and social pressures involved in poaching of birds from tropical forests in Cross River National Park.

This is important work because we humans affect wildlife in so many ways in addition to habitat loss. Although it takes long-term and careful, detailed research to establish mechanisms of population regulation, I suspect that collisions and other forms of modern human mortality are additive stressors to populations. In other words, these are not just the “old or weak” individuals dying that are replaced by the next generation. These victims are just as likely to be fit and healthy adults whose loss represents a population decline that is not compensated by larger litters or enhanced survival of subsequent generations.

A. Window collisions of birds.

  1. Riding, C. S., T. O’Connell, and S. R. Loss. 2021. Multi-scale temporal variation in bird-window collisions in the central United States. Scientific Reports.
  2. Elmore, J.A., C.S. Riding, K.G. Horton, T. O’Connell, A. Farnsworth, and S.R. Loss. 2021. Predicting bird-window collisions with weather radar. Journal of Applied Ecology. DOI: 10.1111/1365-2664.13832.
  3. Elmore, J.A., S.B. Hager, B.J. Cosentino, T.J. O’Connell, C.S. Riding, M.L. Anderson, M.H. Bakermans, T.J. Boves, D. Brandes, E.M. Butler, M.W. Butler, N.L. Cagle, R. Calderón-Parra, A.P. Capparella, A. Chen, A.A.T. Conkey, T.A. Contreras, R.I. Cooper, C.E. Corbin, R.L. Curry, J.J. Dosch, K.L. Dyson, E.E. Fraser, R.A. Furbush, N.D.G. Hagemeyer, K.N. Hopfensperger, D. Klem, Jr., E.A. Lago, A.S. Lahey, C.S. Machtans, J.M. Madosky, T.J. Maness, K.J. McKay, S.B. Menke, N. Ocampo-Peñuela, R. Ortega-Álvarez, A.L. Pitt, A. Puga-Caballero, J.E. Quinn, A.M. Roth, R.T. Schmitz, J.L. Schnurr, M.E. Simmons, A.D. Smith, C.W. Varian-Ramos, E.L. Walters, L.A. Walters, J.T. Weir, K. Winnett-Murray, I. Zuria, J. Vigliotti, and S.R. Loss. 2020. Correlates of bird collisions with buildings across three North American countries. Conservation Biology. DOI:10.1111/cobi.13569
  4. Riding, C. S., T. J. O’Connell, and S. R. Loss. 2020. Building façade-level correlates of bird–window collisions in a small urban area. The Condor: Ornithological Applications. DOI: 10.1093/condor/duz065.
  5. Loss, S. and T. O’Connell. 2018.  In Harm’s Way in Morrison, M.L., A.D. Rodewald, G. Voelker, M.R. Colón, and J.F. Prather. Ornithology: Foundation, Analysis, and Application. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, Maryland.
  6. Hager, S. B., B. J. Cosentino, M. A. Aguilar-Gómez, M. L. Anderson, M. Bakermans, T. J. Boves, D. Brandes, M. W. Butler, E.M. Butler, N. L. Cagle, R. Calderón-Parra, A. P. Capparella, A. Chen, K. Cipollini, A. A. T. Conkey, T. A. Contreras, R. I. Cooper, C. E. Corbin, R. L. Curry, J. J. Dosch, M. G. Drew, K. Dyson, C. Foster, C. D. Francis, E. Fraser, R. Furbush, N. Hagemeyer, K. N. Hopfensperger, D. Klem, Jr., A. Lahey, K. Lamp, G. Lewis, S. R. Loss, C. S. Machtans, J. Madosky, T. J. Maness, K. J. McKay, S. B. Menke, K. E. Muma, N. Ocampo-Peñuela, T. J. O’Connell, R. Ortega-Álvarez, A. L. Pitt, A. L. Puga-Caballero, J. E. Quinn, C. W. Varian-Ramos, C. S. Riding, A. M. Roth, P. G. Saenger, R. T. Schmitz, J. Schnurr, M. Simmons, A. D. Smith, De. R. Sokoloski, J. Vigliotti, E. L. Walters, L. A. Walters, J. Weir, K. Winnett-Murray, J. C. Withey, and I. Zuria. 2017. Continent-wide analysis of how urbanization affects bird-window collision mortality in North America. Biological Conservation 212: 209–215.
  7. O’Connell, T. J. 2001. Avian window strike mortality at a suburban office parkRaven 72: 141–149.

Left: Second-year male Painted Bunting killed in a window collision on campus, July 2018. Right: Preparing windows for application of “bird tape” from the American Bird Conservancy that will make these windows more visible and should reduce the casualties there.

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On Feb. 12 2019, I delivered a talk to OSU’s Science Cafe’ that described our work on window collisions of wild birds. It was pretty rad.  See for yourself.


B. Wildlife mortality and displacement associated with power generation.

1. Atuo, F. A., P. Saud, C. Wyatt, B. Determan, J. A. Crose, and T. J. O’Connell. 2018. Are oil and natural gas development sites ecological traps for nesting killdeer? Wildlife Biology:

For this analysis, Fidel tracked nesting Killdeer at the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area in western Oklahoma. Ground-nesting birds like Killdeer are vulnerable to all manner of disturbances, famously relying on crypsis and distraction displays to raise their young.Screen Shot 2018-12-28 at 11.23.43 AM


Historically, Killdeer nested on short grazing lawns and barren sites. They still do. In pastures they often select spots near cattle dung or some other structure (as do Common Nighthawks in Oklahoma pastures), but they also make heavy use of gravel on roadsides, driveways, parking lots, etc. Fidel’s work suggests that they might even select gravel for nesting far out of proportion to its abundance. In other words, they go out of their way to place their nests in gravel substrates when they can.

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Killdeer incubating eggs in grass cover (a) on an oil pad (b); killdeer clutches of four eggs on grass cover (c) and on an oil pad (d).

The problem? Oil, gas, and even wind turbine development relies heavily on crushed stone construction pads and parking areas. This heavily fragments existing grasslands but actually could be good for Killdeer by increasing the availability of a substrate they might prefer for their nests. We found, however, that nest success was much lower for nests on gravel pads than it was for nests in pastures. In other words, Killdeer are being attracted to something that actually translates into lower reproductive success, i.e., an ecological trap. Why? Well, nest placement matters: nests along the edges of the gravel pads actually fared better than those in the interior (in surprising contrast to nests in pastures for which nest success was higher in interiors and lower along edges). This is because nest failure on gravel pads was almost entirely due to crushing of eggs from daily comings and goings of maintenance trucks.

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Cumulative hazards function for killdeer nest survival on grass cover (solid line) and oil pads (dashed line) at the Packsaddle Wildlife Management Area in western Oklahoma.

2. Piorkowski, M. D. and T. J. O’Connell. 2010. Estimates of bat and bird mortality from collisions with wind turbines in mixed-grass prairie. American Midland Naturalist 164: 260–269.

3. Arnett, E. B., W. K. Brown, W. P. Erickson, J. K. Fiedler, B. L. Hamilton, T. H. Henry, A. Jain, G. D. Johnson, J. Kerns, R. R. Koford, C. P. Nicholson, T. J. O’Connell, M. D. Piorkowski, and R. D. Tankersley, Jr. 2008. Patterns of bat fatalities at wind energy facilities in North America. Journal of Wildlife Management 72: 61–78.


Wind turbines in northwestern Oklahoma kill many bats, and this emerging problem disproportionately affects female Mexican freetail bats, leaving their pups orphaned in their maternity caves. Marty Piorkowski’s hotspot analysis of bat mortality at the Oklahoma Wind Energy Center led to specific curtailment prescriptions at a small number of select turbines that could greatly reduce overall mortality at the site.

C. Factors influencing hunting of birds in Cross River National Park, Nigeria.

  1. Atuo, F. A., J. Fu, J. O’Connell, J. A. Agida, and J. A. Agaldo. 2020. Coupling law enforcement and community-based regulations in support of compliance with biodiversity conservation regulations. Environmental Conservation. DOI: 10.1017/S0376892920000107.
  2. Atuo, F., T. J. O’Connell, and P.U. Abanyan. 2015. An assessment of socioeconomic drivers of avian body parts trade in West African rainforests. Biological Conservation 191: 614–622.
  3. Atuo, F., S. Ivande, Z. Wala, and T. J. O’Connell. 2014. Effects of hunting camps on breeding grey-necked picathartes Picathartes oreas in south-east Nigeria. Oryx. doi: 10.1017/S0030605313000719.
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Martial Eagle and Blue Turaco in a Cross River market, Nigeria. Photo by Fidel Atuo.

D. Conditions favoring aflatoxin development during wildlife feeding.

1. Dale, L., T. O’Connell, and R. D. Elmore. 2015. Aflatoxins in wildlife feed: Know how to protect wildlife. Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, fact sheet NREM 9021.

For her master’s thesis, Leah Dale studied conditions under which aflatoxins can develop in wildlife feed. Aflatoxins are released as metabolic byproducts of Aspergillus fungi, and they can be lethal to sensitive wildlife species, e.g., Northern Bobwhite, at relatively low concentrations. Leah’s work demonstrated that lethal concentrations of aflatoxins can rapidly develop in maize under conditions commonly encountered at feeding stations for white-tailed deer. To minimize the chance of aflatoxin accumulation, we recommend not baiting for deer except under prevailing dry conditions and until daytime temperatures average less than 60°F.



III. Broad-scale population-level responses of birds to extremes of temperature and precipitation.

Data-mining of citizen science programs can provide insights for ecological modeling that both describe and predict responses of birds to weather extremes that increasingly define a dynamic climate. Here we examine winners and losers from these events with the hope of informing nimble and responsive management options.

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Keep running those BBS routes!

With manuscripts in various states of preparation and review at this time there is not too much to share just yet. Significant elements of research by Emily Sinnott, Nick Jaffe, Caitlin Laughlin, and Samantha Cady will be featured here. All have examined community changes in breeding birds of the Great Plains, mostly using data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey in concert with data on temperature and precipitation from varied sources such as PRISM Climate Group.

Several projects in our lab have focused on breeding birds with the center of their distributions in the eastern temperate US that reach a western edge of their distribution in Oklahoma. Several of these forest birds extend farther west in the state than generally appreciated, and they become increasingly riparian-associated as broad-leaved canopy trees are similarly restricted. Decades of fire suppression have increased the cover in fire-intolerant trees in these areas, especially elms, hackberries, and of course, eastern redcedar. These riparian forests appear to be serving as corridors for westward expansion of eastern birds, despite the fact that ecological niche modeling reveals wide swings of occupied land area between wet and dry periods.


Some of this work is beginning to make it into print… 

  1. Sinnott, E., M. Papeş, and T. O’Connell. 2021. Variable precipitation leads to dynamic range limits of forest songbirds at a forest-grassland ecotone. Ecology and Evolution.
  2. Cady, S., T. O’Connell, S. Loss, N. Jaffe, and C. Davis. 2019. Species-specific and temporal scale-dependent responses of birds to drought. Global Change Biology. DOI: 10.1111/gcb.14668.

Here’s Sam Cady discussing temporal scales of drought effects on Great Plains’ birds at the annual meeting of the US-International Association for Landscape Ecology in Fort Collins, CO, April 2019:




IV. Ecological Indicators – the Bird Community Index.

Assessment of biological integrity at broad scales, primarily through development and application of the Bird Community Index (BCI). The BCI distills life history traits of species assemblages into numerical scores and ranks designed to indicate degree to which native species sensitive to anthropogenic influences are represented.

An in-depth description of the BCI and other ecological indicators can be found here. Relevant papers (including some gray-literature publications) below:

1. O’Connell, T. J. 2009. Advancing broad scale ecological assessment using bird community indicators. Proceedings of the Fourth International Partners in Flight Conference: Tundra to Tropics: 138–147.

2. O’Connell, T. J., J. A. Bishop, and R. P. Brooks. 2007. Sub-sampling data from the North American Breeding Bird Survey for application to the Bird Community Index, an indicator of ecological condition. Ecological Indicators 7: 679–691.

3. O’Connell, T., R. Brooks, M. Lanzone, and J. Bishop. 2003. A Bird Community Index for the Mid-Atlantic Piedmont and Coastal Plain. Final Report to the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency. Report No. 2003–02, Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Ctr., Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 44pp.

4. O’Connell, T. J., R. P. Brooks, R. S. Mulvihill, T. L. Master, and S. E. Laubscher. 2003. Using bioindicators to develop a calibrated index of regional ecological integrity. Final Report to USEPA, STAR Grants Program. Report No. 2003-01, Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Ctr., Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA. 247 p.

5. O’Connell, T. J., L. E. Jackson, and R. P. Brooks. 2000. Bird guilds as indicators of ecological condition in the central Appalachians. Ecological Applications 10: 1706–1721.

6. O’Connell, T. J., L. E. Jackson, and R. P. Brooks. 1998a. The bird community index: A tool for assessing biotic integrity in the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. Final Report to the USEPA and Report No. 98-4, Penn State Cooperative Wetlands Center, University Park, PA. 57 p.

7. O’Connell, T. J., L. E. Jackson, and R. P. Brooks. 1998b. A bird community index of biotic integrity for the Mid-Atlantic Highlands. Environmental Monitoring and Assessment 51: 145–156.


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Red-shouldered Hawk

V. Wild Card!

Here are a few other things we get involved with here. Some of this is just straight ornithology for ornithology’s sake or it might not involve birds at all. With respect to the living dinosaurs, there is a fairly comprehensive site I manage devoted to that as well: OKState Ornithology.  Check it out!

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Podcasts and other interviews:

In December 2020, I was interviewed on the BioBlitz! Oklahoma podcast to talk about Christmas Bird Counts.


Wild Card video spots:

Outwitting squirrels?


Winter bird feeding.

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Hummingbird feeding.

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Native trees and shrubs for migratory birds.

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Wild Card publications:

1. O’Connell, T. 2016. Checklist of Payne County Birds. Payne County Audubon Society.

2. O’Connell, T. J. 2009. Book Review: Wildlife-Habitat Relationships: Concepts and Applications (3rd Ed.), by M. L. Morrison, B. G. Marcot, and R. W. Mannan. Journal of Wildlife Management 73: 169–171.

3. O’Connell, T. J. 2006. Book Review: The Virginia Breeding Bird Atlas Project 1985–1989, by J. B. Trollinger and K. K. Reay. Banisteria 26.

4. O’Connell, T. J. 2005. Book Review: Oklahoma Breeding Bird Atlas, Dan Reinking (Ed.). Prairie Naturalist 37: 56.

5. O’Connell, T. J. 2001. Book Review: The Birds of Pennsylvania, by D. Brauning and J. McWilliams. Wilson Bulletin 113: 121–123.

6. Mulvihill, R. S., A. Cunkelman, L. Quattrini, J. O’Connell, and T. L. Master. 2002. Opportunistic polygyny in the Louisiana Waterthrush. Wilson Bulletin 114: 106–113.

7. O’Connell, T. J. and N. Z. Reagle. 2002. Is the chemical defense of Eurycotis floridana a deterrent to small mammal predators? Florida Scientist 65: 245–249.



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