You can 3D print almost anything these days: prosthetic limbs, clothing, orthotics, toys. Here's a new one you might not have heard yet: Birds. More specifically, over 55 species of endangered and threatened birds.
Using handheld 3D scanners, volunteers have been scanning taxidermied birds from museums and other research and scientific facilities. Those scans are then used to create downloadable 3D printable files.
Despite it being April 1st, 3D printing birds is not a joke. This is a serious effort to preserve species in danger of going extinct. You can download files to 3D print your very own Haliaeetus albicilla (white-tailed eagle), Asio otus (long-eared owl), Eurasian wigeon and dozens of other birds.
The project is a collaboration between 3D marketplace Threeding and Artec, the company that makes the 3D software and scanning devices being used. The bird files be available for free until the end of April. Researchers, students and universities will be always granted free access, and for others there will be a reasonable download fee.
If you're not a bird enthusiast, why does this matter? Because this interesting application of 3D printing technology could have a crucial role in preserving these endangered species. It's the next best thing to going to a natural habitat to study a species. Now veterinary students, scientists, universities and research organizations can study these rare birds without putting any real birds at risk.
This project also has the potential to help save these rare and endangered birds from their biggest threat: humans. Many of these species are in danger because they're being hunted -- both for educational use and for collectors. Now that these birds can be be realistically 3D printed, the organizers of the project hope fewer birds will be killed and stuffed.
This is not the first collaboration between Artec and Threeding. They've also partnered to scan and digitize centuries-old artifacts for 3D printing, including hundreds of ancient Greek relics. While those projects have focused on preserving relics of the ancient past, this 3D ornithology (read: birds) project has the potential to preserve the future.