Archives > October 2016

Pelicans

In light of AIWC’s recent pelican patient, it became clear to me that many people don’t realize we have pelicans in Alberta. That’s totally ok, because not everyone lives and breathes wildlife (AIWC staff and volunteers, I’m talking about you!)  This blog is going to give you information about pelicans, hopefully more than you knew before reading it.

Pelicans belong to the Pelecanidae family, and there are a total of eight different pelican species throughout the world. These water-loving birds can be found inland and along coastlines. The different species range in colour from white to grey to brown to black.

The species found in Alberta is the American white pelican (Pelecanus erythrorhynchos). Other than size difference, female and male American white pelicans have the same appearance – orange bills and legs, white feathers on the body, and black posterior feathers at the tip of the wings that can be seen in their silhouette while flying, but are difficult to see when on water or ground.

Mostly everyone knows what a pelican is because of their unique bill. Their bills are very large, with a flat top and a large throat sac on the bottom. Pelicans do not store food in their beaks!

During breeding season, the bill, iris, bare skin around the eyes, and the feet become a more brilliant orange to impress the mate. An interesting fact about the bill of this particular pelican species is the upper bill grows a laterally flattened 3 inch horn (otherwise known as a caruncle) about 1/3 the length of the bill from the tip of the bill. The horn is the shape of half a circle, both males and females grow them, and it is believed to be sexual ornamentation to aid in helping get the best mate. After mating season is over, the horn is shed and the orange colours become increasingly dull. No other species of pelican grows this horn!

Other pelican species dive to catch fish, but these pelicans catch food from the surface of water while swimming. Pelicans eat more than 4 lbs of fish per day. That’s the equivalent of 20-35% of their body weight (the average weight of a pelican ranges between 11 to 20 lbs).

These birds are believed to be social birds, and nest on river islands in colonies with several hundred pairs – often up to 5,000 birds. Like several other bird species, these pelicans mate for life (their lifespan in the wild is over 17 years!).

American white pelicans are found in Alberta during their mating season, which usually ranges from March or April until September or October. They migrate south to the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico Coasts, and tend to live in estuaries, lakes, and rivers. This species tend to avoid the open seashore and open ocean, and fly over land during their migration.

The American white pelican is globally listed as a species of least concern. However, conflicts with humans still occur. The most common anthropogenic issues with American white pelicans include, but are not limited to, habitat loss, fishing gear incidents, boating disturbances, and poaching,

Remember, if you see injured wildlife, call AIWC for help or advice at 403-946-2361.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer.

Sources:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/American_White_Pelican/id

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pelican

http://www.arkive.org/american-white-pelican/pelecanus-erythrorhynchos/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_white_pelican

https://www3.northern.edu/natsource/BIRDS/Americ1.htm

Long-eared Owl

 

 

long-eared-owl

 

Recently, a long-eared owl underwent one of AIWC’s first onsite surgeries in several years to repair an exposed fracture. The vets are optimistic about him making a full recovery.

While the wide eyes, orange facial disks, and tall feather tufts of the long-eared owl give this bird the appearance of being ever-startled, the close set feathers atop their heads are meant to protect them from being surprised by other animals. By elongating their bodies and ear tufts, long-eared owls camouflage themselves by looking like tree branches to avoid being seen by possible predators. As a quite slender bird of prey, long-eared owls risk predation from larger raptors like great-horned owls and bald eagles. Magpies, crows, and hawks have also been known to prey on long-eared owl eggs and nestlings.

Long-eared owls are almost strictly nocturnal, hunting small rodents and birds at night. When they are not caring for young owlets, long-eared owls will roost in groups, but are among the most secretive owls and are rarely heard or seen. These birds prefer dense forests and are partially migratory so you may be lucky enough to see one this season travelling slightly farther south of his/her breeding range to overwinter.

If you would like to help support the long-eared owl’s recovery, or any other animal in our care, consider adopting an animal, donating items on our wish list, or volunteering at the centre. If you find injured wildlife, please call the centre for assistance at 403.946.2361.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

http://www.simplywildcanada.com/wild-species/birds-of-canada/owls-of-canada/

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/birds/owls/long-eared-owl.aspx

 

Scared Skunk

Scared Skunk is AIWC’s first children’s book and the third book Michelle and Denver Suttie have written for an animal charity.

The goal of these books is to share true stories about animals, and in doing so, give the reader an awareness and understanding about issues wild animals face.

Unfortunately, there are so many issues wildlife face that it’s hard to pick just one to write about. With that said, this book was inspired by the increase in skunks AIWC received this year. As of October 7th, 83 striped skunks had been admitted to AIWC – the majority of them being baby skunks (kits).  That’s an increase of 176% since 2014! The major cause for admissions is due to an increase in human-wildlife encounters.

This book highlights AIWC’s messaging:  Our actions impact the environment and its wildlife.
In this case; a skunk kit who has become orphaned due to her mother being trapped, causing her to have to search for food on her own which leads her to an encounter with litter.

Scared Skunk reminds us that we all have a shared responsibility to wildlife!

The book is packed with interesting facts about skunks that anyone, at any age, can learn from. The facts in this
book—called skunk statements—give the reader a way to get to know the character, and in some cases, may dispel any myths or opinions surrounding her as well.

These books are a nice fit in the K to 3 classrooms or the children’s section of the library, and provide the perfect opportunity for discussion around the family dinner table.

Scared Skunk will be launched on Wednesday October 12th and can be purchased
on-line by visiting our website, and are available at these locations:

* Wildbird General Store in Edmonton * Purearth Organics in Red Deer *

* Deja Brew in Cochrane * Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane *

*The Wild Bird Store in Calgary*

 100% of proceeds are donated to Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation.

Muskrats

Hey, what’s that little, brown, furry critter swimming around ponds and lakes? A muskrat!

 Adults can only weigh up to 1.5 kilograms, so these little pond-dwellers can be hard to spot. However; muskrats are still the largest members of the rat and mouse family in North America!

Muskrats look a little bit like beavers, don’t they? With their scruffy brown furry bodies and aquatic lifestyles, it could be easy to mix them up!

Physically though, muskrats are quite different. First of all, they’re much smaller, and secondly their tails are narrow and flat. In fact they almost look like rat tails.

Muskrats have partially webbed hind feet that they use to help them swim, and they use their front feet like little hands to grab objects.

Just like beavers, muskrats love water! They tend to live in freshwater marshes, ponds, marshy areas of lakes and slow moving streams. But muskrats don’t build dams the same way beavers do.

Using mud, pond weeds, cattail and bulrushes, muskrats build their homes near the water. They tend to live in family groups and can be defensive about their portion of the pond. Each muskrat family’s section has a house, feeding area and canals through cattails and pond vegetation.

With winter on its way, muskrats are busy putting together domes made from frozen vegetation to cover holes in the ice. According to Alberta Environment and Parks’ website, muskrats keep the domes open throughout the winter by continually chewing away the ice and pulling up underwater vegetation to build an insulated dome. These miniature lodges are used as resting places during underwater forays and as feeding stations.

Muskrats like to eat meat and greens. They enjoy pond weeds and vegetation, but also like feasting on mussels, frogs, salamanders and small fish.

Muskrats are feisty little critters! Especially during breeding season when they are often seen fighting within their own families.

Fun Muskrat facts!

  • Muskrats are capable of remaining submerged in water for up to 15 minutes in a relaxed state. They reduce their heart rates and relax their muscles, reducing the rate at which oxygen is used.
  • Muskrats store a supply of oxygen in their muscles during a dive and are less sensitive to high carbon dioxide levels in the blood than are non-diving mammals.
  • Muskrat’s front teeth are modified for underwater chewing. Their large incisors (or cutting teeth) protrude ahead of their cheeks and lips so they can close their mouths behind their teeth! This makes it possible for under water eating without swallowing water. 

Young muskrats are now venturing out on their own and could struggle to find homes and territories since they‘re being claimed by older muskrats, and since preparations for winter started last month. It’s possible that you might see some younger muskrats making their way into urban and residential areas looking for winter homes.
If you see a muskrat far from water or venturing into a dangerous place, give AIWC a call
at 403-946-2361. AIWC is open every day from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/rabbits-rodents/muskrat.aspx

nature.ca