Picture of bird taxidermy with different tools around it.

These 12 tools help solve avian mysteries

At a Smithsonian lab, forensic ornithologists analyze feathers, aiding airfield staff in reducing bird strikes.

PHOTOGRAPH BY REBECCA HALE

For more than 20 years Carla Dove has run the Feather Identification Lab at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. Her team of forensic ornithologists receives more than 10,000 avian remains a year from aircraft collisions—bird strikes—and matches them to specimens in the museum’s collections, using morphology and DNA analysis. An example: After the “Miracle on the Hudson” emergency landing in 2009, Dove’s lab ID’d the birds involved as Canada geese. By knowing what species are struck most, airfield staff can deter birds and reduce the number of damaging strikes.

The Smithsonian houses the world’s most diverse bird skeleton collection, including this skull of an American bittern. (See other aspects of the same species at 2 and 5.)

1. Avian skull

The Smithsonian houses the world’s most diverse bird skeleton collection, including this skull of an American bittern. (See other aspects of the same species at 2 and 5.)

This story appears in the November 2021 issue of National Geographic magazine.

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