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!

by Amanda de Boer, Board Director

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.

This year is 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!

Bird feeders are a great way to enjoy wildlife but there are some things to consider to keep our feathered friends safe while we enjoy their visits to our yard.

Although not our mandate, we sometimes end up with domestic animals that have no other place to go. We are thankful for the good working relationship we have with local rescue organizations. This past summer we ended up with a few kittens and had troubles finding a spot for them. Thanks to Whisker Rescue, they have now been taken off our hands.

The dream of a durable, functional, efficient, and beautiful, new wildlife hospital is getting closer. Two substantial Christmas gifts, one from John and Marilynne Herron and the other from Ruth Bower, have provided the funds for us to move forward with the construction and begin the interior work of our new facility. We believe that by early 2019 the hospital will have its concrete floor, electrical rough in, and in-floor heating completed. The next stage will be to complete the various rooms.

We now need to raise the final $225,000 to compete our amazing million-dollar building. We will be asking $125,000 of that from the small stream Community Facility Enhancement Program in January, leaving the final $100,000 to raise. Donations of labour, materials, and cash will be gratefully accepted. Let’s get this building finished before the busy season starts in May!

As another year comes to a close I take a moment to stop and overlook our silent wetland, watch bull moose grazing on the bushes on the far end, reflect on 2018, and am left with nothing but optimism.

We were pleased to host two students this fall both wishing to gain more knowledge and an understanding of wildlife rehabilitation.