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Data Reveals When Birds Are Most Likely to Hit a Plane

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Data Reveals When Birds Are Most Likely to Hit a Plane

Short | 03:12

Since 1990, the National Wildlife Strike Database has reported more than 200,000 bird strikes on commercial planes. This data tells us when planes are most vulnerable to these types of collisions.

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US Airways Flight 1549 is about two minutes into its journey from LaGuardia Airport to Charlotte, North Carolina in 2009 when bird strikes to both engines cripple the plane. What results is an emergency landing on the Hudson River that astonishes the world and shines a light on a growing problem affecting our increasingly busy skies. Follow a team of forensic ornithologists and discover the remarkable research being conducted to solve the bird strike problem.


  • Carla Dove James Kegley for the Smithsonian Institution

    Carla Dove

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    Dr. Carla Dove directs the Feather Identification Lab at the National Museum of Natural History. Carla grew up in rural Virginia where she developed a love for the outdoors, spending her summers roaming through the woods and wading through mountain streams. Earning a Bachelor's Degree in Wildlife Biology from the University of Montana, she learned the specialized skill of 'bird skinning' and focused her studies in Ornithology. After graduating, she returned home to the Blue Ridge Mountains, but then landed a job as a Museum Specialist at the Smithsonian based on her experience in bird specimen preparation. In the Division of Birds, Carla connected with her mentor Roxie Laybourne, the pioneer of Forensic Ornithology, and began studying the microscopic characteristics of feathers to aid in the identification of birds. Dr. Dove completed her M.S. and Ph.D. at George Mason University while working in the Division of Birds.

    Now, as Director of the Feather Identification Lab, Carla leads one of the only laboratories in the world that specializes in the identification of 'snarge' (bird ick). The lab processes over 9,000 cases each year and mainly specializes in the identification of birdstrikes (bird/aircraft collisions). The lab is supported by interagency agreements with the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and the FAA to identify birds that are hazardous to aviation safety. The skill of feather identification is also applied to law enforcement cases, studies of prey remains, and has been used a time or two in food contamination cases.

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