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Unique partnership brings Smithsonian Institution to Kuwait

  • Published
  • By Capt. Stephen Hudson
  • 386th Air Expeditionary Wing Public Affairs

A unique partnership between the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Smithsonian Institution is yielding results in reducing bird strikes, not just in Kuwait, but throughout the region.

Jim Whatton, a research assistant with the Smithsonian Institution’s Feather Identification Lab in Washington D.C., spent three weeks here working alongside a wildlife biologist from the U.S. Department of Agriculture collecting samples of various birds to take back to the Smithsonian.

The visit’s goal is collecting data on native and migratory species to reduce bird strikes on aircraft around the world.

Whatton, who holds a degree in Wildlife Biology from Ball State University in Indiana, has been with the Feather Identification Lab for 10 years. The lab holds 600,000 specimens dating back the 1800s and covers 80 percent of the world’s bird population. The average sample of the collected specimens at the lab is from the 1950s, so the 66 new specimens collected in Kuwait are the newest entries. The specimens collected here will be available through a world-wide DNA database accessible to researchers.

“This is really helpful for us to build up our genetic resources,” Whatton said of the Smithsonian Institution’s visit to Kuwait.

The U.S. Air Force, Navy and Federal Aviation Administration provide funding for five researchers at the Feather Identification Lab to identify birds hit by aircraft. The staff at the Lab identify 10,000 bird strikes per year and with the military making up half of those strikes.

“Those agencies that provide the funding allows us to identify any bird strike that happens in the United States at a civil airport, N numbered aircraft or U.S. Air Force, Navy or Marine Corps aircraft anywhere in the world,” Whatton said. “We can identify those free of charge.”

Whatton said they can provide the identity of the bird to the airfield manager, or the wildlife biologist at the airfield, to properly manage bird populations on base.

According to Whatton, 90 percent of bird strikes happen on takeoff and landing, below 3,000 feet and within five miles of the airfield, which is why wildlife management is important.

The unique partnership between the 386th Air Expeditionary Wing, the Smithsonian and the Kuwait Environment Public Authority allowed for the visit to take place.

“We could not have asked for a better start to our collaboration and are very excited the future,” Whatton said. “We hope this is the beginning of a great relationship.”

The 386th AEW has a robust Bird/Wildlife Aircraft Strike Hazard, or BASH, program on base designed to reduce the wildlife struck by aircraft. The program, led by wildlife biologists from the USDA has been in place for nearly a decade.

“It has been incredible because we are aiding in science and the long-term positive affect on flight safety and reducing bird strikes,” Kayla Severino, the USDA wildlife biologist at the 386th AEW, said.