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Forensic Ornithologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory
Dr. Pepper Trail served as the senior forensic ornithologist for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Office of Law Enforcement for over 20 years. During this time, he worked on over 2000 cases, identifying bird remains submitted as evidence in wildlife crime investigations. This evidence ranged from carved hornbill skulls to Harpy Eagle headdresses to oil-covered roadrunners to hummingbird love charms to live Indonesian songbirds. He also established The Feather Atlas of North American Birds, the leading website for feather identification. He will describe this unique career in a talk that is by turns entertaining and appalling, illustrating the vital role of wildlife law enforcement in bird conservation.
Pepper Trail grew up roaming the woods and fields of New York’s Finger Lakes region. His early interest in natural history led him to a biology major at Cornell University. He followed this with a Master’s degree from U.C. Davis for his research on the social behavior and ecology of Acorn Woodpeckers in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona. Trail returned to Cornell for his Ph.D., conducting a long-term field study of the spectacular Guianan Cock-of-the-Rock in Suriname, work that resulted in publications in National Geographic and Science. After research stints based in Panama, San Francisco, and American Samoa, Trail settled with his family in Oregon. From 1998 until his retirement in 2021, he was the senior ornithologist at the National Fish and Wildlife Forensic Laboratory, where he analyzed bird remains in wildlife crime cases, and created the Feather Atlas of North American Birds, the premier feather identification website. Trail was a founding board member of the Society for Wildlife Forensic Science and served on the wildlife subcommittee of the federal workforce to create forensic science standards. He is a Fellow of the American Ornithological Society and has authored more than forty papers in avian behavioral ecology, conservation, and forensics. A sought-after speaker, he provides conservation training and leads natural history tours around the world.
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