Date of Award

Fall 2023

Degree Type




Director of Thesis

Dr. Carlina de la Cova, Ph.D.

First Reader

Dr. Eric LoPresti, Ph.D.

Second Reader

Dr. Joshua Stone, Ph.D.


Many cultures have recognized the importance of birds in scavenging. However, within forensic literature and research, avian scavenging is an understudied phenomenon. Despite this, researchers have shown that scavenging by birds is unique from other types of scavenging in that birds can rapidly cause complete skeletonization, leave relatively little bone damage, and can spread remains and artifacts over a large area. Here birds known to scavenge are explained in a biological context and then their effects on remains are analyzed. Birds are capable of completely scavenging human remains in as little as 5 hours, depending on many understudied factors. Avian scavengers tend to cause small amounts of bone damage, but the existing damage needs to be categorized to help to identify this damage in future forensic cases. Furthermore, avian disarticulation and scattering of remains is discussed as it pertains to attempting to locate remains for forensic cases. This is followed by an overview of forensic cases which includes crime scene processing and understanding of pseudotaphonomy. Overall, more research needs to be conducted on avian scavenging to gain a more complete picture of the ways birds affect remains.

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© 2023, Austin Millwood