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Birds fly through our lives every day, so their flight might not seem extraordinary — until you recognize that it’s a marvel of mechanics that evolved over millions of years. With just over a century’s worth of powered flight, humans are newcomers to the sky, but we have been helped to get there by studying bird flight.

On Sunday, February 7, at 1:30 p.m. at Orcas Center, Peter Cavanagh, NASA researcher, University of Washington professor, photographer, and part-time Lopez Island resident, explained the intricacies of bird flight and how its observation has influenced aircraft design.

Illustrated by his spectacular photographs, Peter’s lecture included the evolution of flight, its basic physics and anatomy, and stories about unusual birds and the people who have studied their flight.

Professor Cavanagh studies biomechanics — the application of engineering principles to the biology of movement. This background, together with his training as an instrument-rated pilot, and a deep interest in bird conservation has attracted him to the study of bird flight. This year his travels in search of interesting birds will take him to Japan, Peru, Norway, England and Wales, Ecuador, and the Galapagos Islands.

One of Cavanagh’s images of a Japanese red-crowned crane dancing in a blizzard was judged by the National Audubon Society to be among the top bird photographs of 2015. You can find his picture of a Lopez Island Bald Eagle on the Washington State Ferry Samish. Samples of his bird photographs can be found at

Cavanaugh also recently organized an exhibition on bird flight at the Seattle Museum of Flight. He has written 5 books on topics varying from Bone Loss during Long Duration Space Flight to the Biomechanics of Running. He is currently at work on a book with the same title as the lecture.