A real-life who-done-it
Local wildlife biologist creates unique program
The original American CSI T.V. show created by Anthony E. Zuiker has spawned spin-offs series includingCSIMiamiandCSINewYork.
But forensic scientists charged with solving mysterious and unusual deaths have never had to figure out what or who killed amember of the avian population. Untilnow. Lynn Miller is known more as the cofounder of Le Nichoir, a Hudson-based non-profit wild bird rehabilitation centre she opened 15 years ago, than as a forensic scientist.
Nevertheless, an education program the wildlife biologist and toxicologist developed for schools and camps is giving kids new insight into science.
Miller introduced her Avian CSI program last summer to several summer camp groups. She took it into the classroomat John Rennie High School in October and is now ready to help other schools do the same.
"This fits very well with Le Nichoir's mandate to promote wildlife education," Miller said of the program.
What students do is help Miller figure out why a bird has died through a scientific process that culminates with an actual bird autopsy.
Her avian corpses come from those birds Le Nichoir is unable to help or release for a host of reasons.
"Last year we had 1,200 birds brought in to Le Nichoir," Miller said, adding, "Our release rate is 50-percent, meaning 500 to 600 go into the freezer after they have died."
The centre is better able to help future birds recover if it understands what killed
CSI, or crime scene investigation, is all the rage on television, with at least four such shows captivating audiences and amateur sleuths on a regular basis.
them, Miller explained.
She says humans create most of the dangers birds face.
"I'm not killing these birds for entertainment but if I can help others and inspire a new generation it might really make a difference," she said.
Getting to work
During a recent session with a group of junior high school kids, Miller asked them to help her figure out how her victim had died.
The kids' first job was to identify the bird's species with a field guide booklet. Brilliant green head feathers and distinctive purple wing feathers let them know they were dealing with amalemallard.
During the autopsyMiller was able to estimate by the size of the bird's organs that it was close to 12 months in age.
An external body exam determined the mallard had no broken bones, while the kids learned birds have hollow, or straw like bones, as well as an anatomy similar to that of humans.
They viewed with fascination tiny ear holes on either side of the mallard's head that were otherwise unseen by humans since they are covered entirely by feathers.
The kids also excitedly noted that while the bird did not have obvious trauma to the body, his right wing feathers had been clipped or singed.
"This would have grounded him for sure," Milller told students of the burnt wing.
During the autopsy, her finding confirmed the mallard was thinner than normal and that its spleen was enlarged, signifying distress.
In the end, the group agreed that the mallard hadmost likely flown over an industrial chimney (Miller believes the event took place in Montreal's east end) and been grounded and unable to cope as a result.
"Why don't they build covers for those things," asked one 13 year-old participant.
Miller smiled and said, "Maybe that's something you can change sometime soon... that's exactlywhy this is important to do."
Hudson wildlife biologist Lynn Miller developed an educational program for schools and camps.