Each day, the Smithsonian Institution's Feather Identification Laboratory receives about a dozen packages from around the country, each containing tissue swabs from bird/plane collisions.
The lab's scientists have dubbed this bloody goo "snarge," and it is usually all that is left when bird meets plane. Scientists are analyzing snarge DNA to track airplane bird strikes, with the hope of decreasing hazardous collisions.
"It's bird ick," said Smithsonian snarge expert Carla Dove, who heads the lab. Technicians identify the snarge DNA using sequencing technology, then enter the sequences into a national database. Scientists can then tell what kinds of birds are commonly smashing into America's airplanes, something of intense interest to both the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. military.
A bird-strike expert named "Dove" heads the Feather Identification Laboratory? I suppose some of us are just destined for a particular occupation.
The article also contains these bonus factoids:
- "Jet engines must now be able to withstand the ingestion of an 8-pound waterfowl without failing (this is tested in the lab by firing a chicken from a cannon at point-blank range)."
- "'We've had frogs, turtles, snakes. We had a cat once that was struck at some high altitude,' said the Smithsonian's Dove. She says birds like hawks and herons will occasionally drop their quarries into oncoming planes. 'The other day we had a bird strike. We sent the sample to the DNA lab and it came back as rabbit. How do you explain to the FAA that we had a rabbit strike at 1,800 feet?'"