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The Ravishing Raptors of Southern Alberta



Have you noticed any long winged, curved-beaked, talon-clawed birds soaring through the sky this summer?

Yes? Then you are witnessing Alberta’s raptor season!  No, not Jurassic Park raptors, BIRD raptors!

Birds of prey, like hawks, falcons, owls and eagles are known as raptors.  Their tough, hooked beaks and sharp, curved talons make them experts at catching and devouring snacks like mice, ground squirrels, small birds and other rodents.

These soaring species’ have amazing eyesight!  How else would they be able to spot tiny mammals from all the way up in the sky?

While owls have unique features, Alberta’s hawks and falcons can be tough to tell apart.

Common falcon species in Southern Alberta include the American Kestrel, Merlin Falcon, Peregrine Falcon and Prairie Falcon.  Some hawks you might see around include the Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginuous Hawk, Harrier Hawk or Red-tailed Hawk.

Here are a few clues to help you identify the raptors of Alberta’s skies.

Clue #1: Falcons have smooth, pointed wings, while hawks have “fingers” or edges to their wings.

Clue #2: The Swainson’s Hawk is one of the most common species living on the prairies.  (In fact, right now, AIWC is caring for seven Swainson’s Hawks! Mostly due to run-ins with vehicles, as these feathered beauties do a lot of hunting near roads.) These raptors have dark brown bodies and wings on the top with lighter beige underneath.

Clue #3: Falcons can reach diving speeds up to 300 kilometres an hour. You probably won’t have time to pull out your stopwatch, but these guys can move pretty quick!  Their prey hardly stands a chance.

Clue #4: The Peregrine Falcon is another raptor that calls Alberta home.  While they come in a variety of sizes, you might be able to spot a peregrine falcon from the dark band on their head; like they are wearing a little hood or cap.  These falcons like using cliffs as nesting sights but have adapted to use building ledges when nesting in urban areas.

Clue #5: Spot a raptor with white eyebrows and a light belly by a prairie river? Chances are, you’re looking at a Prairie Falcon!  These swift falcons like to nest in caves and ledges by running water in the prairies.  They’re a pretty rare find, but white bird poop on cliff faces might be an indication that Prairie Falcons are nearby!

Clue #7: Notice a big raptor with a red tail hanging out around Calgary or Edmonton?  That’s a Red-tailed Hawk!  These feathered city slickers like to perch on highway lights and signs, scanning the area for mice or other prey.  While they prefer wooded areas, Red-tailed Hawks do well near large urban centres.

Clue #8: Whats that sound?  Well, it might be a Merlin Falcon!  These little raptors have a distinctive call and do well in urban areas.  Feeding on little birds and nesting in planted trees makes city life ideal for the Merlin Falcon.

Clue #9: The Ferruginous Hawk (whew, what a mouthful!) is the largest species of hawk in the world.  Their favourite meal is a Richardson’s ground squirrel, but these big raptors will eat all sorts of mammals.  They will also eat snakes!  These hawks aren’t big fans of cities and prefer grasslands to city life.

There is so much more to learn and appreciate about Alberta’s raptors!  Like all species, birds of prey play an important role in the natural world and deserve our respect and admiration.

If you come across abandoned or badly injured raptors or other wildlife, call AIWC’s hotline at 403-946-2361.

 “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”― Henry David Thoreau




Fall Migration Detour…

It is very common to see a Swainson’s Hawk searching for prey over Alberta prairie fields or perched atop fence posts next to them.

The beautiful Swainson’s Hawk can be a sight for soar eyes here at AIWC this time of year—late August and September—when they are starting their trip of over 12,000 miles to Argentina.

AIWC has 7 hawks in care right now—mostly due to car collisions, as some of their hunting takes place on the side of the roads and highways.

Swainson’s Hawk pairs share the effort of building the nest, though the male picks the nest site.  Nests are built in trees as well as the occasional power pole, located near agricultural fields and pastures, where they feed.  It can take up to two weeks to build and consists of twigs, sticks and debris items they find like rope and wire.  The nest is lined with grass, hay, weed stalks, fresh leafy twigs and may even include cow dung.  When finished, the nest can reach up to .61 meters in diameter and is over .30 meters high. Hawks may re-use nests from previous years including those of crows or magpies.

Swainson’s Hawks will have 1 brood per year of 3 to 5 chicks.  They feed their chicks a diet of rodents, rabbits, and reptiles. But when they’re not breeding, the adults switch to a diet made up almost exclusively of insects, especially grasshoppers, dragonflies and butterflies that they catch on their wings.

The good news is that AIWC expects most of the seven Swainson’s Hawks in care to make a full recovery and to be ready to join the rest of their group (migrating groups are called kettles) on their journey to the warmth and sun of South America.

These hawks would not be making this migration journey if it wasn’t for the care and compassion of Albertans who call our hotline to let us know there is a wild life in need.  Thank you!!

As always, if you find injured or orphaned wildlife, please call us at 403-946-2361.

“We don’t own the earth.  We are the earth’s caretakers.  We take care of it and all the things on it.  And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”  Katherine Hannigan, author.

Wildlife…Our Shared Responsibility



We have a shared responsibility to wildlife.  For as long as there have been people, there have been dangers to our wildlife. At AIWC we believe our responsibility to wildlife goes far beyond the walls of our clinic.

Whether it is the assistance and information we provide to the more than 5,000 individuals that call our hotline yearly, our on-site talks, or the outreach programming we provide to the greater community, we are working to create a strong co-existence between Albertans and wildlife.

AIWC’s Education programs emphasize the importance of environmental protection, and may be the most important investment we can offer Alberta’s youth.

With the beginning of the school year just around the corner, it time to start thinking about the amazing education programs we offer:

Who’s in Your Backyard?

An interactive program focusing on wildlife commonly seen in Alberta. Learn about the life cycles of different wild animals, the roles they play in our ecosystem, and the common reasons why they are admitted to our clinic.

Wildlife Rescue

This program gives participants a glimpse into the inner workings of a local wildlife rehabilitation centre – from field rescues to the wildlife hospital.

Birds of Prey

Which raptor flies like a stealth bomber and which dives like a fighter jet? Take a close up look at birds of prey and learn how they hunt, migrate, and compete with one another.

The World of Owls

Specific to the 11 species of owls found in Alberta, this session aligns with elementary school programs.

Bat Basics

This program features Alberta bats and explains why they are so beneficial to humans. Topics include bat species of Alberta, diet and echolocation, life cycle, migration and hibernation, myth busting, and cool facts!


Focusing on fascinating physical and behavioural adaptations of local wildlife, this program shows children how feathers and fur, talons and claws, whiskers, hollow bones and nocturnal behaviour help animals to survive.


How do Alberta’s wildlife know where and when to migrate? Where does the wildlife go? Do animals return to the same place every year?

 Supremely Skunks

Skunk behaviour is the topic of this program which informs audiences that this often misunderstood creature can be a great wild neighbour!

Wetlands Wildlife

The Wetlands Wildlife program introduces learners to wetland ecosystems and explores topics such as types of wetlands in Alberta, the function of wetlands in some areas of the world, biodiversity & current threats to our wetlands.

For more information on our education programs or our on-site talks contact our Education and Community Engagement Coordinator Katrina Jansen at

As always, if you find injured or orphaned wildlife, please call us at 403-946-2361.

“We don’t own the earth.  We are the earth’s caretakers.  We take care of it and all the things on it.  And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”  Katherine Hannigan, author.




Bark for the Bites

Our local forests provide important habitats and food staples for much of Alberta’s wildlife and many of AIWC’s patients.  Trees provide nest areas for birds, building materials for rodents, cover and camouflage for ground dwelling animals, and food for ungulates such as moose.  The shade from large trees provides the necessary environments for many of Alberta’s berries, while downfall supports the growth of fungi which serve as important nutrient sources for squirrels, bears and insects (among others).

Porcupines like to consume the inner tree bark of many coniferous trees, while beavers tend to prefer the bark of deciduous trees.  Many animals need the seeds for survival.

Currently AIWC has a number of patients – including porcupines and beavers –  who would benefit from donations of fresh aspen, poplar, or willow branches for either food or a temporary habitat.  Additional in-kind donations of the following are also welcome and will help to ensure our creature friends have sanctuaries suitable for their recovery while at AIWC:



All-purpose cleaner

High efficiency laundry soap (unscented and phosphate free)

Toilet paper

Extra-large garbage bags

Fresh/frozen blueberries



Corn on the cob

Lean ground beef


Volunteers are also always needed at the centre so consider signing up to help move trees around, and to support our patients in getting back to their wild homes!


Don’t Bat an Eye!


You might have this reaction if you ran into one of Alberta’s flying, nocturnal critters like the big brown bat or the little brown bat.

Poor bats have a bad reputation. Between Halloween, vampires and all sorts of myths, bats have been portrayed as dangerous cave dwellers and Dracula’s side kicks!

Well… they do like caves. But the truth is that bats are friendly, peaceful mammals that avoid people.

Alberta’s bats are incredibly unique, valuable critters that feed almost exclusively on insects. They enjoy tasty night-time active bugs like moths and beetles and even help us by eating pesky mosquitos and flies.

A fun bat fact? Despite spending most of their time snoozing upside down, they are the only mammals that can truly “fly.” Using special “hand-wings” made up of membranes in their legs, bats can swoop and soar easier than most birds can!

One of the coolest things about bats is how they find their way around. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind! They have short-range vision that can help them navigate darkness. Their main navigational tool however is echo-location.

Ultrasonic waves bouncing off objects provide bats with an echo that allows them to determine where and what an object is. Neat right? Bats are so good at “hearing” objects that they don’t even get confused when flying around thousands of other bats!

So where might you run into one of these special critters? In the summertime, Alberta’s bats like to hang out… well pretty much anywhere! Forests, foothills and parklands are habitats for many bats but some city slickers enjoy setting up camp in urban areas, roosting in buildings, barns, garages caves and many other dark crevices.

You’re not very likely to run into a bat in the winter. A lot of bats opt to go on vacation, heading south for the colder months. The ones that stay behind hibernate, going into an intense energy-conserving state that allows them to sleep until the warmer weather returns.

This is why you should try to avoid waking up a sleeping bat! Hibernating bats don’t have a lot of energy to waste, and disturbing them can cause them to use up a lot of energy, leading to starvation. In fact, according to Alberta Environment and Parks’ website, it is illegal in Alberta to disturb bat hibernation sites between Sept. 1 and April 30.

So forget all the bad things you might have heard about bats and remember that these furry, winged mammals help with insect control and play a huge role in Alberta’s ecosystem (and they definitely aren’t friends with Dracula.)

From January until now, AIWC has taken in big brown bats, little brown bats and silver-haired bats.  Check out AIWC’s Instagram account for a video of a baby big brown bat patient eating his dinner!

To help support AIWC and it’s bat patients, donate or become a member today.


“We don’t own the earth. We are the earth’s caretakers. We take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”
― Katherine Hannigan, author.

Information collected from Alberta Environment and Parks website:

By: N. Grossman, Volunteer Writer.

Keeping the “Wild” in Wildlife

Habituation, defined by the Oxford dictionary, is when an organism stops responding to typical stimulus.

In terms of animals, this means they no longer have normal reactions as they would in the wild. Habituation, otherwise known as imprinting, can occur if a wild animal is kept in captivity too long. They stop viewing humans as predators and start thinking of them as a part of their life, much like a domestic animal.

On top of that, animals that were predators in the wild will forget how to hunt, and herbivores will not know what plant life to look for when foraging for food.

As keeping the wild in wildlife is very important to us here at AIWC, we strive to do the best we can to make sure habituation does not happen with the animals we have in care.  We do this by:

  • Limiting contact with the animals in care to only when necessary, for example: examinations, medicating, enclosure transfer etc.
  • Whispering when working with and around them.
  • Using a towel to wrap or cover them when moving or examining them.
  • Avoiding eye contact as much as possible.
  • Making sure we progress them through the rehabilitation process and back into the wild as soon as they are ready to be released.

In Canada, wild animals are protected by law under the Canada Wildlife Act, which makes it illegal to keep or care for any wildlife unless you are a registered wildlife charity. Please don’t try to keep, raise, or care for any wildlife on your own. Please call us at (403)-946-2361 with any concerns about wildlife.

Responsible Recreation

A recent camping trip to Elk Island Nation Park provided this volunteer with a reminder of why it is important to maintain a safe distance from, and avoid feeding, wildlife. It is also essential to ensure that campsites are kept bare this season.

We were excited to see a wide variety of animals in the park including bison, deer, geese, great blue herons, American white pelicans, a very protective mother grouse (luckily we had made sure to keep a safe distance), and a beaver.

Most exhibited the elusive characteristics of wildlife that fill us with awe and delight at the brief moments we’re afforded to witness their charm.  However, we were harassed by an unrelenting red squirrel which had lost any trepidation toward humans; presumably because others had fed him. Try as we might, we could not get any peace from this tiny troublesome terror. We put all the food away and refused to feed him, but he never relented.  He even blocked our path to the washroom, and forced us to go around him having not paid the toll in food scraps. Another camper also reported that the squirrel had nipped his young daughter when he got into a bag of rice they were about to cook when she tried to take the package away.

While it may seem like we are doing animals a favour by giving them a little food here and there we are actually doing more harm than good.  Animals may become dependent on humans, may not get the required nutrition, and may continue to enter risky situations to gain access to food. Feeding them also puts people in danger of being scratched, bitten (or worse), by animals that may carry serious diseases.

The best way to make sure there are wild animals for you and others to witness when you venture into Canada’s vast wilderness, is to keep your distance and keep your food to yourself!

If you would like to support wildlife, consider donating to AIWC or becoming a volunteer.

By: S. Ruddock, Volunteer Writer.

Photo: Red Squirrel patient currently in care at AIWC.

Update on beaver kit

Last week the baby (kit) North American beaver we have in our care made news across the globe as the video of him enjoying “pool time” went viral. If you haven’t seen the video yet, you can head over to our Facebook page to watch:

Currently, we do not know the sex of the kit we have in care. The only guaranteed way of doing this is by doing x-rays, but it is not essential to the kit’s care currently so we will wait until he/she is a little older.

We are so appreciative of all of the support that has been offered to our organization and wanted to provide everyone with an update on the beaver kit.

First and foremost, the kit continues to do well in care and is putting weight on daily. Our organization is a wildlife rehabilitation centre with the aim to rehabilitate and release animals back to the wild. As he/she is a wild animal and not a pet, we are taking steps to ensure he/she is not habituated to humans. We have no intention of keeping the beaver kit in captivity for the entirety of his/her life and are planning on his/her eventual release back to the wild.

Based on our past experiences, and with consultation with rehabilitators that specialize in raising beavers in the USA and Canada, we will most likely have the kit in our care for 2-3 years. 2-3 years is the normal age beavers leave their parents, but the timing depends on several factors such as the sex of the kit, beaver density in the area etc.

What do the next 2-3 years look like for this little kit? The first year of a beaver kit’s life is spent sleeping, eating and playing. It is in years 2 and 3 that the kits start to learn how to be “engineers” and work on building lodges and dams.

The beaver kit is only one of nearly 200 important patients in care. If you would like to donate to the care of any of the patients in care, please see how you can support us.

Can Alberta save the caribou?

The Alberta government released the first draft of a plan to save the province’s woodland caribou after the species’ continued population decline since 1900.

Caribou are a distinctly Canadian species. From their white rumps and tails to their brown coats and wide muzzles, most people recognize the large-antlered mammals as the wilder looking cousins to Santa’s reindeer!

According to the Alberta Wilderness Association’s website, woodland caribou have “historically occupied two-thirds of (Alberta) ranging from the west-central foothills to the boreal forests of the north.”

Woodland caribou (Rangifer tarandus caribou) are classified as a threatened species both provincially and nationally.  A 2010 Alberta Wildlife Status Report says that although predation by wolves is the primary cause of caribou death in natural conditions, ongoing declines in the population are likely the result of human-caused habitat alteration.

The province has released a draft to save Canada’s beloved caribou. The plan targets two major herds: the Little Smocky and A La Peche caribou ranges.

According to the draft, released by Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP), current habitat conditions in the Little Smocky and A La Peche Caribou Ranges can’t support self-sustaining caribou herds.

So what does the future hold for the woodland caribou? At this point, it’s still hard to tell. One thing is for certain: Albertans, and for that matter, all Canadians, should care about the future of the woodland caribou. A world that watches as a (more than) thousand-year-old species disappears is not a world doing its due diligence to the animals that call it home.

The detailed “Little Smocky and A La Peche Caribou Range Plan” was released on June 2 and can be found by clicking here or visiting

AIWC advocates environmental stewardship and knowledge in the next generation by educating children and adults alike on how their actions impact the environment on a larger, provincial scale. This is achieved through public education and a wide range of Wildlife Education Programs.

To book an education event, complete a Wildlife Education Program Request.

To help support AIWC, donate or become a member today.


“We don’t own the earth. We are the earth’s caretakers. We take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”
― Katherine Hannigan, author.

By: N. Grossman, Volunteer Writer.

Happy (almost) Canada Day, Eh!

With Canada day coming up on Friday, we thought we’d take some time to talk about Canada’s national animal, the North American Beaver!

The North American Beaver has been a symbol of Canada since the 17th century, and became Canada’s national animal on March 24th, 1975. At AIWC, we often have beavers in our care, making up part of the over 1,600 wild animals we treat each year. Currently, we have a North American Beaver kit in our care.  He is an orphan and was found at a golf course with a tail laceration and we are hoping he makes a speedy recovery.

Beavers are amazing swimmers and use their large, rear webbed feet and their paddle-shaped tails to steer and glide through the water. They have valves in their nose and ears that close to keep the water out. Beavers also have a clear layer that acts like goggles to cover their eyes when they are swimming to protect them from things floating in the water.

Beavers are among the largest in the rodent family, weighing up to twenty seven kilograms! They eat twigs, bark, leaves, roots and aquatic plants. Gnawing and felling trees with their large teeth and powerful jaws gives beavers the supplies they need to build dams and lodges to live in. Access to their homes can only be reached through underwater entrances, providing them with better protection from predators that can’t swim.

Did you know that beavers can remain underwater for up to fifteen minutes before coming up for air? This is especially helpful when beavers are building their dams, and trying to place sticks underwater!

Beavers are also good house guests. Their dams usually contain two dens, one for drying off after entering the dam from underwater, and a second, dryer den where the family will live and socialize. Beavers have also been known to share their lodges with families of muskrats!

Have a safe and fun Canada Day with friends and family!

How Can You Help?

  • Read our PSAs about what to do if you come across wildlife and spread the word.
  • Donate to AIWC – with the demand for our services increasing, the cost to operate also increases.
  • Donate an item(s) from our wish list.
  • Become a member.
  • Adopt an animal.

It all comes down to this:

“We don’t own the earth. We are the Earth’s caretakers. We take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”   – Katherine Hannigan, author.

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