A real-life who-done-it

Lo­cal wild­life bio­lo­gist creates unique pro­gram

L'Etoile - - IN OTHER WORDS -

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.

Bird au­top­sy

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."

PHOTO KRIS­TI­NA ED­SON

Hud­son wild­life bio­lo­gist Lynn Miller de­ve­lo­ped an edu­ca­tio­nal pro­gram for schools and camps.

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