April 19, 2018 10:04 AM

MU students learn how to take samples from wild animals

Students from Millikin University's physiological ecology course visited the Illinois Raptor Center in Decatur, Ill., on April 17 to learn how to take samples from wild animals and use the information to assess their health. The course is taught by Dr. Travis Wilcoxen, associate professor and chair of the Biology Department at Millikin.

"Our use of wildlife is a model system," Dr. Wilcoxen said in a recent interview with the Herald & Review. "All of the things we are going to test are things they might test on human patients."  

The Millikin students looked for hormone levels and diseases, and studied the birds' physical features. They are interested in the changes in diseases of multiple bird populations.

"I have students who study West Nile Virus," Dr. Wilcoxen said. "That is something that can get into birds, humans, horses."

The students also studied each bird's wing length, leg length, size and shape of the head, reproductive condition and the species. 

"The birds are held in a cotton bag that are completely breathable," Dr. Wilcoxen said. "It's no different than when you were a little kid and you put a sheet over your head."

Among the students who studied the birds was Millikin senior Mason Jett, a biology: molecular cell track major from Hoopeston, Ill. 

"I like to work with DNA, but that can be used in something like this, working with animals," said Jett. "We are learning how to catch birds, hold them, what measurements to take."

Students in Millikin's Biology Department gain practical experiences in veterinary research by observing birds that come into the Illinois Raptor Center. In addition to taking measurements, the students perform diagnostic tests and test the birds' blood for lead poisoning.

MU Bird Research
Photo courtesy of the Herald & Review