Archives > March 2017

Reducing Wildlife Yard Hazards

Spring has finally arrived, and with spring comes migratory song birds and a new generation of wildlife. Spring is one of the busiest times for AIWC. We see an increase in patient numbers as the breeding season begins due to things such as human-wildlife conflict, incidents with domesticated house pets, and other man-made hazards.

There are a number of things you can do to make your yard more wildlife friendly. This blog outlines different hazards and how to make them less dangerous to the wildlife visiting your yard.

One of the top hazards for songbirds are windows, killing about one billion birds annually (EALT 2017, Cornell University 2016). Windows often appear as a reflection of the sky or surrounding trees, and when there isn’t a reflection birds may see right through the window and collide into it as a result (EALT 2017). There are a few things that you can do to help prevent window strikes:

  • Place bird baths and bird feeders within 1 m or further than 10 m from a window (EALT 2017, Cornell University 2009). Window strikes are more likely to be fatal if the bird is flying at top speed.
  • Use stickers designed to help birds see the window. Some window decals reflect UV light, which is visible to birds but not people (EALT 2017). There are also stickers designed to allow people to see out from the inside, but prevent reflections on the outside (Cornell University 2009).
  • See this website for more information on window strikes      http://www.flap.org/residential_new.php

Another hazard for songbirds are cats. Cats are continually one of the leading causes for songbird deaths annually and more than 100 million deaths caused by cats are estimated in Canada each year (EALT 2017).

  • The simplest fix for this is to keep your cat inside, where they will also be the safest.
  • If your feline friend goes stir crazy, compromise by creating an outdoor cat-condo, putting them on a harness, or supervising their outdoor time.

Some pesticides are toxic and can harm wildlife (Whitford et al. date unknown). It can pose a hazard to some species through biomagnification (the increase of a toxin occurring in an organism’s tissue higher up in the food chain) and there are several ways to garden that can either reduce or eliminate the use of pesticides. The Canadian Wildlife Federation has 5 tips on their website (http://cwf-fcf.org/en/resources/DIY/at-home/five-alternatives-to-pesticides.html) to help be more eco-friendly in your yard:

Use coffee grounds as a natural fertilizer.

  • Use vinegar to stave away slugs.
  • Use boiling water to get rid of pesky weeds
  • Aerate!
  • Plant a variety of different species in your garden to attract different pollinators.

Window wells can pose as a trap for small, non-aerial wildlife and they can succumb to starvation if they can’t get out of the window well (EALT 2017).

  • Installing a window well cover over the window can decrease the chances of an animal falling in the well.

Water barrels are a great natural and resource-friendly way to collect rain water to use on your yard and in your garden, but if they aren’t set up properly they can become a trap for some animals (EALT 2017).

  • By covering your water barrel with a screen, you will protect against small animals from becoming trapped and drowning.
  • By using the rain water in your rain barrel more frequently, you reduce the risk of wildlife drowning and you also reduce the likelihood that mosquitos will use the water as their nesting ground.

As always, AIWC is ready to help with any orphaned and injured wildlife you come across. By making your yard wildlife friendly, you become a steward for wildlife and reduce the chance of human-wildlife conflict!

 By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

References:

Cornell University. 2016. If You Have a Wildlife Friendly Yard, Watch Out For Window Collisions. Available at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/wildlife-friendly-yards-welcome-birds-but-can-increase-window-collisions/

Cornell University. 2009. Why Birds Hit Windows – And How You Can Help Prevent It. Available at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/why-birds-hit-windows-and-how-you-can-help-prevent-it/

EALT (Edmonton & Area Land Trust). 2017. Hazardous Habitats. Available at: https://www.ealt.ca/hazardous-habitats

CWF (Canadian Wildlife Federation). 2008. Five Alternatives to Pesticides. Available at: http://cwf-fcf.org/en/resources/DIY/at-home/five-alternatives-to-pesticides.html

Whitford, F., Miller, B., Bennet, R., Jones, M., and L. Bledsoe. Date Unknown. Pesticides and Wildlife: An Introduction to Testing, Registration, and Risk Management. Edited by Blessing, A., and D. Doyle. Purdue Pesticide Programs, Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service.

Wildfires and Wildlife

Photo credit: Winnipeg Free Press

Last year in Alberta, on May 1st, 2016, the largest ever wildfire evacuation took place with thousands of residents from Fort McMurray fleeing south along highway 63 towards Edmonton and Calgary. Many people had no choice but to abandon everything, as the flames quickly grew out of control. Many more people wondered if they too would have to evacuate as the fire eventually crossed the border into Saskatchewan. But, luckily for them the fire subsided and after two long months, on July 5th, 2016 the flames were finally declared under control.

The fire destroyed not only people’s houses, but also the homes of all the wildlife that used to live in the area. For the animals that were lucky enough to survive the fire, thick clouds of smoke forced them to abandon their habitat. It will take many years for the roughly 500,000 burned hectares to be fully populated again. This is because in order for animals to return, all the vegetation that was destroyed has to regrow through a process known as secondary succession.

In the early stages of succession during the next couple of years, many ungulate species such as moose will benefit from the plethora of low lying shrubs and grasses from which they can graze upon. Bears too will benefit from the increased abundance of berries.

During this time the plants are competing to see who can grow the fastest and get the closest to the sun. By hoarding the sunlight to itself, the conifer species—who can first grow tall enough to provide a canopy—will be the one that will dominate the forest. This takes quite some time with ten percent canopy coverage from five-meter-tall trees taking anywhere from five to ten years to grow. The boreal plains ecozone has particularly rich soil though, so this process could occur much faster.

Maintaining the fire killed trees (snags) is an important way we can help speed up the recovery of the forest. The reason being, that woodpeckers create cavities for nesting in snags, that are used by a variety of other birds and small mammals who can then go on to disperse and germinate seeds. Eventually, these seeds will create the trees, branches and foliage that the over four hundred species of birds in Alberta rely upon for creating nests and roosting. Snags with cavities only stay erect for a couple of years however, and it is important that we maintain them for as long as possible.

We also need to remain patient and to simply allow mother nature to take her course. After a period of twenty years or so, we will again be able to see the forest for the trees. We can also take comfort in the fact that all the dried up organic matter on the forest floor will be gone, and in its place will be a moist layer of vegetation that will likely prevent another fire from occurring. Until then you can be happy for all the bears, ungulates and woodpeckers that are likely to benefit in the short term.

For more information on Alberta’s wildlife, book an education program with our knowledgeable staff and volunteers. To support AIWC’s ongoing care of wildlife in Alberta consider adopting an animal, donating items from our wish list, purchasing your copy of Scared Skunk or volunteering.

By Michael Orr, AIWC Volunteer

References:

Bartels, Samuel, Han Chen and Michael Wulder. “Trends in post-disturbance recovery rates of Canada’s forest following wildfire and harvest.” Forest Ecology and Management 361 (2016): 194-207. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0378112715006386 (accessed March 16, 2017).

Farris, Kerry and Steve Zack. “Woodpecker-snag interactions: an overview of current knowledge in ponderosa pine systems.” Proceedings of the symposium on ponderosa pine: issues, trends, and management. General Technical Report PSW-GTR-198. USDA Forest Service. Albany, California, USA. https://www.fs.fed.us/psw/publications/documents/psw_gtr198/psw_gtr198_m.pdf (accessed March 16, 2017)

 

Greater Sage Grouse

Alberta is home to a number of grouse species including the blue grouse, ruffed grouse, sharp-tailed grouse, spruce grouse, and the greater sage grouse. The greater sage grouse is one of the most impressive and most threatened varieties.

As one of the largest grouse species and with males sporting a spiked fanning tail, the greater sage grouse is especially striking. During mating season these birds return to their ancestral “lek” where males perform elaborate dances in which their broad white chests are further accentuated by inflated yellow air sacs. Their odd calls and the timing of their displays at dawn as the sun rises over the expansive prairie sky makes this chicken-like bird all the more impressive.

Unfortunately, as a native to the grasslands of North America, the greater sage grouse is now identified as a species at risk in Alberta. Like plains grizzly bears, the greater sage grouse has been heavily impacted by human activity.  As a result of habitat loss, the greater sage grouse is now only seen in a small southeast corner of southern Alberta although measures are in place to help restore the greater sage grouse population and the prairie grasslands.

Should you find an injured or orphaned greater sage grouse, or any other wildlife, contact AIWC for assistance. If you would like to support AIWC’s work consider adopting an animal, volunteering at the centre, or donating to one of our fundraisers.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Sources: Government of Alberta, http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/birds/grouse-related-birds/greater-sage-grouse.aspx
Government of Canada, http://www.registrelep-sararegistry.gc.ca/species/speciesDetails_e.cfm?sid=305
Photo Credit: C. Olson at the Alberta Wilderness Society.

Small but Sharp: The Northern Saw-Whet Owl

 

Right now, AIWC is caring for a tiny, feathered critter with bright, yellow eyes.

The Northern Saw-whet owl is known for their small size, over sized head and cat-like face. But what they lack in size, they make up for in attitude!

Northern Saw-whet owls are a mottled brown colour with white-coloured facial disks and white spotted heads.

These little owls can be found in coniferous and deciduous forests across North America. They are nocturnal forest birds, roosting in dense vegetation during the daytime, often near trunks of evergreen trees.

Unless your looking, you aren’t likely to see one of these little owls since they roost in nests just above eye-level.

They are fierce hunters, stalking and killing mice and small mammals, specifically deer mice, shrews and voles mainly at dusk. They use what’s called the “sit and wait” tactic, dropping down onto prey from low hunting perches. When there’s no shortage of prey, a Saw-whet owl can kill as many as six mice in succession. They then store the kill in a safe place, thawing them out to eat in the winter. Resourceful!

These little mammals have a shrill, penetrating territorial call that sounds sort of like a repetitive note being played on a flute.

Along with a flute-like call, these owls make a “skiew” call when alarmed that sounds like the whetting of a saw, which is exactly how they got their name!

And they really are vocal little owls! During breeding season —between March and May—they use a monotonous, whistled “hoop” as a courtship call. And this call can last for several hours without a break!

Because they like to move around, Saw-whet owls aren’t likely to form permanent bonds, but they are great parents!

After a female has been attracted to a male’s call, the male will fly above the female or take her to his nest site. The male will land next to the female and do a funny head bobbing, shuffling dance, sometimes even offering her a dead mouse! Pretty sweet, right?

Northern Saw-whet owls like to nest in old woodpecker cavities. Females lay about three to seven eggs and do all the incubation for the 21 to 28 day period.

Parents continue to care for young for several weeks after they’ve left the nest, and the young-lings fledge at four to five weeks.

Northern Saw-whet owls can live up to ten years!

These small, beautiful owls are just another example of the diverse and precious wildlife thriving right here in our province: just another reason to protect and care for wild animals.

The wildlife and its habitat cannot speak, so we must and we will…” –Theodore Roosevelt

 By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

 Sources:

https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Northern_Saw-whet_Owl/id

http://www.owlpages.com/owls/species.php?s=3030