Friday, February 27, 2009

Bird identification

When we visited CCBER I mentioned museums being put to uses that are only limited by your imagination. I'm sure the original curators of the Smithsonian would never have imagined that their prized bird collections would one day be used to identify fragments of bird that had passed through a jet engine (particularly since many of the collections probably predate the jet engine).

But today the Smithsonian houses the 'Feather Identification Lab' where a staff of four analyze the remains of over 4,000 bird-plane collisions a year. The New York Times had a nice article on the lab: Identifying the Bird, When Not Much Bird Is Left.

Although you might think that these days it could all be done by DNA analysis instead of experts looking at feathers the article illustrates that DNA analysis will only take you so far. In one recent case the DNA from a bird strike at 1,500 feet came back as a deer. It required a human expert to identify the feather as coming from a black vulture - explaining the presence of deer DNA in the engine.

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