Monday, December 12, 2016

"Behind the Scenes With the World's Top Feather Detective"

Sometimes Trail receives a blob of black sludge from an oil pit containing a decomposed bird and has to extract the feathers, restore them, and ID the species. Other times he gets the smashed remains of an animal demolished by a wind turbine. He has investigated high-end artifacts smuggled into the country—an indigenous Amazonian crown made from curassow body feathers, toucan throat feathers, and Scarlet Macaw tail feathers, for example—and cheap dream catchers peddled at tourist traps across the Southwest. The findings go both ways; the evidence in question might be made from perfectly legal turkey feathers or the feathers of a protected sub-adult Golden Eagle.

In 2013 Trail received a shipment of 43 hummingbirds. The carcasses, which were each about the size of an index finger, had been dried out and stuffed into red paper tubes that were decorated with matching satin tassels. Accompanying each was a Spanish-language prayer meant to invoke the mystical powers of la chuparosa