Team Works To Identify Birds Hit By Planes

Carla Dove and her team at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. i i

Carla Dove, Marcy Heacker, Faridah Dahlan and James Whatton work with bird remains at the feather-identification lab at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History. Melissa Block/NPR hide caption

itoggle caption Melissa Block/NPR
Carla Dove and her team at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Carla Dove, Marcy Heacker, Faridah Dahlan and James Whatton work with bird remains at the feather-identification lab at the Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History.

Melissa Block/NPR

Carla Dove and her team at the feather-identification lab at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, study snarge — that's the bird goo that is wiped off an aircraft after it hits a bird.

If any bird remains are found on the US Airways jet that crashed Thursday in the Hudson River in New York City, it will be sent to Dove's lab in Washington. The lab gets about 4,000 such samples each year.

"Every day we get bird strikes in the mail and we have a whole team here and we have a couple of tools in our toolbox here to help us do bird IDs," Dove tells NPR's Melissa Block.

Feathers from bird strikes can yield a lot of information about the birds, Dove says.

"Feathers are very resilient and even if the whole bird is ingested in the engine, and there's just some little pieces of down ... we can often look at the microscopic characters in there that will give us an idea of what group of birds we're dealing with," she says.

Knowing which birds planes hit is an important tool in aviation safety, Dove says.

"If you think about pest management, and that's really what this is, it's like a safety issue," she says. "You can't really do anything about the problem until you know what the species that's causing the problem is."

She says once you determine what bird is involved in strikes, steps can be taken to keep the birds and the airplanes from colliding.

"We like to think we're trying to help improve aviation safety, but we're also helping save birds by trying to identify what's causing the problem," Dove says.

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