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Bird Strikes & Feather Identification, Marcy Heacker

Marcy Heacker, a wildlife forensic scientist at the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Lab in Washington, DC, discusses wildlife forensics, bird strikes and feather identification. She tells “The WildLife” host Laurel Neme how her analysis helps airports manage wildlife to enhance airline safety and also talks about how she and the other forensic scientists at the lab helped analyze the crash of US Airways flight 1549, the Miracle on the Hudson.

While typically the result is not as catastrophic, birds and other wildlife strikes to aircraft annually cause over $600 million in damage to U.S. civil and military aviation each year. The Smithsonian’s Feather Identification Lab identify the species involved and thus help airport biologists manage the habitats in such a way so as to discourage wildlife from congregating in the area. While the methods vary depending on each unique situation, it works. For example, New York’s JFK International Airport reduced gull strikes by roughly 80 percent using tactics such as grass management, eliminating standing water, and frightening birds with pyrotechnics. All that is possible once you know the species you’re dealing with, and Marcy is a part of that.

Marcy Heacker is a research assistant with the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Lab in Washington, DC. She received her Master’s of Science and Bachelor’s of Science in Biology from George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. She also holds an Associates Degree in Veterinary Technology from Columbus State College in Columbus, Ohio. The main focus of Marcy's work is in avian species identification from microscopic and whole-feather characters. This specialized work in wildlife forensics is particularly important for aviation industry personnel that deal with civil and military bird strikes. This feather identification service has led to collaborations with scientists in the fields of aviation safety, wildlife biology, anthropology, and law enforcement. Marcy's current research is on the feather microstructure of the ducks, geese, and swans. The lab's work has been featured in numerous scientific papers and the media, including  DiscoveryNational Public RadioSmithsonian magazine and Audubon magazine, among others. (First aired on August 9, 2010)

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See article based on this interview.