Every fall MRWC receives patients that arrive late in the season, recover, but miss their chance of migration and have to overwinter, even though they are healthy and releasable. In past years, MRWC has cared for such things as Sandhill Cranes, ducks, or Great Blue Herons. This year is no different. We are currently housing a Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Cedar Waxwing, American Robin, juvenile Bald Eagle, Red-tailed Hawks and a Cormorant.
Many of the species we house are relatively simple to care for but some, such as the Cormorant, require a bit more attention. Our Cormorant cannot be kept in our pond with the other waterfowl due to his easily stressed personality and the way he needs to feed. Instead, he is kept in a quiet, private room with a large rubber container filled with water. Clean water and fish are put into the container each day an he spends much of his time perched on the edge, dipping fish. We are very grateful to Smoky Trout Farm for the donation of 250 pounds of lovely trout to keep him fed.
Most birds that are overwintered leave Alberta and cross borders during migration and with current regulations this makes it impossible to send these patients over those borders to their normal wintering grounds. Our Cormorant, however, can spend his winter in the lower mainland of British Columbia. This may seem easy, but there are still borders to cross. MRWC has begun the process to put export and import permits into place and hope we will not have to keep this guy for the next five months. I’m sure he feels the same.
Alberta has 6 types of Grebes ranging from the tiny Pied-billed to the larger and very vocal, Western Grebe. These birds are built very much like loons in that their legs are placed at the end of their body near the tail leaving them unable to stand and walk like other birds. They need a long run on water to be able to take off taking about 20 steps per second. This leaves grebes at an advantage if they find themselves on land. We often see “grounded” grebes on roads after a rainstorm. Wet pavement can confuse them into thinking it is a river, so they land on a very hard surface and are grounded, rarely doing any major damage.
We see most of these grounded grebes in the fall and spring as grebes are migrating. People often mistake these birds as ducks and can’t understand why they aren’t flying. This fall if you see a bird with a fat body, long beak, and possibly red eyes, on the ground that isn’t flying, text us a picture for ID and we’ll help direct you as to what to do.
After 16 years of handling the majority of the 150 education programs we do each year, Otis the Owl finally has a little help. Olive the Owl has joined our team after being orphaned this spring. She is not imprinted on people but has been socialized in order to be comfortable in her new role. She is still in training but has now attended several programs, wowing her audiences. Olive is fun and curious and will play a big part in connecting people to nature.
Staff at the Centre recently had a pleasant surprise when checking on the condition of a Big Brown Bat in recovery. As the enclosure was opened and staff reached for the recovering female bat, it was noticed that she had a rather large baby wrapped around her chest! The baby is surprisingly big weighing in at 3 grams. The normal weight of an adult Big Brown Bat is 17 grams. That equates to a human giving birth to about a 30lb baby!
How did this happen? Well, bats are one of approximately 100 species in the world that have what is known as delayed implantation. The bat is bred in the fall but holds the embryo in a dormant state until conditions are good and baby can grow. Mother and baby are doing well but the next challenge will be what to do with the baby if mother doesn’t fly again. We are consulting with leading bat specialists to develop a plan.
For the past two springs we have been called to help the Parkland School in Red Deer as the snake hibernaculum (the place where snakes gather to spend the winter) on their property has numerous garter snakes awakening and making their way across the school grounds. The school is located a short distance from the Kerry Wood Nature Centre so the snakes are transported to the wetland and forest surrounding the Centre to spend their summer. They would have made their way there anyway but taking them away from the activity of a school ground is safer for both animals and people. This year, as Gwen was moving the snakes, she noticed one that had some spine issue which limited her mobility. It was decided to take it back for some care and recovery. One June 22 that recovering garter snake gave birth to 22 healthy, little garter snakes! Although the female still cannot be released, after consultation with Alberta’s snake expert, the little snakes were released at the Kerry Wood Nature Centre where the mom would have given birth if not injured.
70% of the world’s snakes lay eggs while the others give birth to live young. Live-birthing, or viviparous snakes, tend to live in colder climates. Those who lay eggs require warmer climates to help incubate.
At the end of April, and again the middle of June we had thieves break in to our building. The first time they got away with more than $10,000 worth of tools and supplies and even took the keys to all our vehicles. The second time they came in during daylight hours, while staff was still working onsite, but didn't steal nearly as much. A huge thanks goes out to the supporters who helped us during this frustrating time.
Red Fox move into towns and cities to take advantage of abundant food sources such as jackrabbits, ground squirrels, or other small mammals. They can be deterred from living under sheds or other structures with lights, coyote or wolf urine (purchased at outdoor supply stores), or a radio playing to give the illusion of people always being there.
Northern Flickers can be seen in Alberta with many even staying all winter to feed on fruit and seeds at backyard feeders. MRWC sees several each year in the hospital, often hit by vehicles due to their habit of feeding in ditches.
Flickers are a type of woodpecker that feed mainly on insects on the ground. Ants are a particular favorite. They are a larger, brown bird with a spotted belly and a black bib. They can be found in two varieties - red or yellow shafted, meaning the undersides of the wings will be yellow or red. In both varieties the male will have a "mustache" but it will be black in the yellow shafted and red in the red shafted. A flash of the large white rump as they fly off is a good field mark to identify the bird.
Flickers are cavity nesters and both male and female work together to excavate holes in dead trees and raise the young. The nests do not have any bedding as once the young are over 2 weeks old they simply cling to the side of the hole and wait for parents to put their heads in to feed. Average clutch is 5-8 eggs.
The population of Flickers is considered in steep decline and has decreased by over 49% since 1966. They are most vulnerable to free roaming cats, pesticides, and vehicles. You can help by eliminating these dangers and by putting up nest boxes if you have appropriate habitat with a mix of open fields and forest.
We received a report of two skunks on the riverbank in Red Deer - one stuck and the other dead. Staff was sent and the healthy one was able to get free and ran away while the ”dead” one was found to still be breathing. She was scooped up and faithfully administered heat and treatment. By the evening she was up and interested in food. The next day she had made a full recovery!
After years of not being a part of the parade in Red Deer, we were very happy to celebrate and join in on all the fun once again. We have used the same skit during the walk since we first took part 30 years ago, and it's still just as popular. A huge thanks to our summer interns for putting on a great show!
If you don't want skunks in your yard, don't invite them! Being proactive and keeping skunks out of your yard is a better solution than trying to remove them after they have arrived. Did you know that trapping and relocating can actually make the problem worse? Taking away a skunk without removing what brought it in will only lead to another taking its place. Altering the population can lead to females having bigger litters to compensate.
With the recent donation of $70,000 by Ruth Bower we have been able to install the heat pipes, rough-in plumbing, and pour the concrete floor. The shingles were installed and the windows placed. The freezer room has just gone in and the doors are on their way. The indoor wall construction began this week and it's really starting to feel like a building now. March was a very busy and exhausting month as dedicated and cherished volunteers worked to prepare the areas for the professional trades. Thanks to CB Construction, Pidherney's, Cobijar Consulting, Harriman Lumber, and Hurricane Truck & Bobcat for their generous price reductions. Thanks to DJ Will Construction for their ongoing support.
We have just received word that Ruth & Dorothy Bower have decided to contribute once again to the project by giving a further $100,000 to match the funds that we have applied for from the Community Facility Enhancement Program! We'll receive word in July for the final $125,000 to complete the hospital project.
Olds College has implemented a new program, "Stream Your Dream", which sees students explore other areas of specialty animal care besides the usual vet clinics. These areas can include onsite veterinary specialties to horse ranches and wildlife rehab centres. This spring’s students, Alyson and Jessica, spent the first week of April looking at our information and asking questions to better understand our work.
With much of our focus being on the rebuild of the wildlife hospital, this the raptor flight enclosure project has fallen by the wayside. We are now resurrecting it as our current cages are close to being unusable. Without proper flight pens we will not be able to take raptors in for rehabilitation.
Porcupine tend to be one of the misunderstood animals that live around Alberta, but are truly one of our staff favourites. Numerous urban myths surround them, leaving people in fear of these quiet, gentle creatures.
Porcupine are Canada’s second largest rodent, with the beaver being the largest. We most often think of rodents, like mice, breeding often and having large litters but interestingly porcupine multiply very differently. Females breed in a rather vocal, interesting breeding dance and are then pregnant for 7 months and deliver only one “porcupette”. Twins are considered very rare. These adorable little babies are fully developed with teeth and quills at birth. They are not carefully nurtured by the female and are often weaned by the age of 10 days. They spend the summer following the female and learning from her behaviour.
They are covered in 30,000 hollow, modified hairs called quills that are their only protection from predators. They can’t shoot these quills but do have a flat, strong tail covered in the largest of the quills that can strike an attacker with lightning speed, giving the illusion that they shot the quills. They are not filled with air so it does not help to cut a quill before pulling it from your dog’s face; it really makes the quill harder to grip and pull out.
Porcupines love to eat the inner bark of trees, dandelions, and other vegetation. If they are “loving” your plants or trees you can use a spray that can be purchased at any garden store, Bobbex, to protect your yard. This spray needs only to be reapplied every three months so is very long lasting and effective for porcupine and others like hare, deer, and voles.
Porcupine are hunted by such predators as Coyote, Cougar, Bear, Wolf, Fishers, and Great Horned Owls.
April 7-13 is designated as National Wildlife Week this year. This year the Canadian Wildlife Federation is asking you to #DoMoreForWildlife and to create a healthier world for all living beings and spaces.
Celebrate Earth Day on April 22. When we come together, the impact can be monumental.
After spending the winter eating several cases of fish, hanging out with the ducks and geese in our pond, testing our creative abilities, and avoiding the long migration, our Great Blue Heron has been put back in the wild.
We are very thankful to the Ponoka Fish & Game Association for their gift of $1000 which enables us to purchase proper rescue equipment, including on water and in trees. They also donated a lovely trailer in which to haul it all! We regularly get calls requesting our help in dicey situations and we have had to recruit help from others. Now we're prepared to take it on ourselves!
Over the past couple of months we have been sharing the challenges of overwintering a Great Blue Heron. This month we have a video showing how we get our picky bird to eat on his own. It's never boring at MRWC!
After a snowfall, I’m eager to get outdoors early. This is one of the most fantastic times to discover who is living in your backyard. Tracking footprints in the snow can be particularly exciting for folks like me who crave sightings of wildlife. Originally from Calgary, I grew up the lush green community of Woodbine and would get excited to see small critters like squirrels, hares, and porcupines out the window. Still, despite my love of wildlife, I kept a pane of glass between us.
Connecting with nature is an important way to learn about respect for our environment. Allowing nature to scare you, fill you up with adrenaline, and provide for your basic needs only, is how we teach our children to feel alive. But what is out there? What about in the park across the street with the small pond or further, to the outskirts of the city where the farmers work, or further still to the grassy valleys and to the never-frozen river? These places are where one must venture to breathe in nature and set themselves up to explore it.
Tracking footprints can be an awesome activity for you and your spouse, or your kids. Download an app, put on your snow pants and boots, and start walking. If you are aware, you will see tracks right away, and give yourself credit for all the footprints you recognize.
As you begin to get better at recognizing who the track belongs to, then determine if the animal was running, trotting, or standing still. Was it eating in its spot, or standing astute to potential predators? Which direction did the animal come from, and travel to? Was there just one, or a pack?
Doing some research can enhance the adventure; what animal tracks might you find in your neighbourhood? Hares, rabbits, muskrats, squirrels, chipmunks, mice, voles, sparrows, grouse, owls, bucks and does, cows and horses – can you find them all?
In your tracking you will no doubt be duped by your own dog; and do not forget to look up once in a while because that buck you are tracking could be standing right before you.
Bohemian Waxwings are the winter waxwings in Alberta while the Cedar Waxwing is generally our summer resident.
Description: The Bohemian is larger at 54g, has white bars on the wings, and rusty coloured under the tail. The smaller Cedar Waxwing is only 32g. Both birds have the distinct black face mask and yellow tipped tails.
Migration: These birds begin arriving back in Alberta in September and leave the province to head north to their breeding range in April.
Food: Both species of waxwings that live in North America feed on insects in summer months, along with fruit, but live mostly on berries and crab apples during colder months.
Habitat: Waxwings can be seen in a wide range of habitats and will roam great distances in the winter in search of food. They are a common sight near cities and yards due to the increase of fruit trees planted by people.
Breeding: Bohemians are monogamous and breed in the far north in an area with plenty of food and coniferous trees. They are not territorial and may not necessarily go back to the same area to breed the next year. They lay an average of 6 eggs in June and July that are incubated for approximately 2 weeks by the female alone. The male brings her berries and keeps her looked after during that time.
Predators: The most common predators of these lovely, little birds are other birds such as falcons and small hawks. Merlin, Cooper’s Hawk, and Sharp-shinned Hawk are fast flying predators that are skilled at catching little birds. Many birds are killed when colliding with windows. When a bird sees the reflection of sky and trees in a window, they do not realize there is actually a window in the trees they see.
Interesting Facts: Waxwings live together in huge flocks during winter months. These flocks that may be as large as 2-3,000 birds descend on a yard with berries or apples and stay until the fruit is gone, then move on to the next yard. The seeds of the fruit can be spread a long distance through the feces of these birds.
Waxwings are very quiet, passive little birds often showing very little fear of humans when they are near.
Waxwings eat huge amounts of berries with one individual being recorded as eating between 600-1000 cotoneaster berries in six hours.
At MRWC: As late winter turns to early spring and days get longer, the sun is a little higher in the sky. This changes the way we see reflections on windows and we believe this is one reason that far more Bohemian Waxwings injure themselves and come to our hospital that time of year. During some winters the numbers have been so high that come spring we have our own flock to release. We allow them to exercise in the indoor pond for a few days before release and when the weather is sunny and nice outside, we simply open the door and a cloud of waxwings take off from the building.
The new year brings an exciting time as we celebrate our 35th year of work in Alberta's communities. Since 1984 we have worked hard to not only save wild lives but to nurture a connection to our environment.
Over the past 11 years MRWC has hosted international students to work and live at the facility each summer. These students have played an important role in caring for the patients and the facility while enjoying a Canadian experience. Now we are taking the internships to a whole new level!