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Mysterious, Mischievous Minks

At the end of March, AIWC welcomed an unexpected visitor. For the first time in about ten years, a mink made an appearance. This new patient was found near Brooks with a swollen eye and has been admitted as a patient.

So what’s the deal with minks in Alberta? What is a mink anyway?! Let me tell you!

The American mink (Latin name: Mustela Vison) weighs about 1 kilogram full grown. These little critters have long, thin bodies ranging from 65 to 75 cm long. They have small, rounded ears, pointed snouts with whiskers, brown-ish coats and sometimes have white spots on their chins and chest.

In Alberta you can find minks in the boreal, foothill and Rocky Mountain natural regions.

These little weasels are semi-aquatic which means they love to spend time near the water. In fact, you’re not very likely to find a mink unless you’re close to a watercourse.

Minks have semi-webbed feet and non-retractable claws that help them climb trees. They’re great swimmers– according to Live Science they can swim up to 30 m under water!  These little creatures were made for waterside living. Their coats are coated in oil to help repel H2O.

These nocturnal hunters are most active during dawn and dusk hours when they go out looking for ducks, fish, small birds, rodents and even muskrats! Crayfish, frogs, snakes, mice, moles and chipmunks also make excellent snacks for a hungry mink.

Minks tend to live alone but come together to breed. They mate in March with mini-minks born in May in litters of six to eight. Kits become independent from mama mink at six to ten months.

Minks need to look out for coyotes, bobcats, and large owls; predators that enjoy having weasels for dinner.

AIWC’s mink patient is having his eye treated and seems to be getting feistier every day! While it’s exciting to have a feisty little mink patient at AIWC, it looks like he will be on his way back to the wild soon.

Minks are just another example of the beautiful, diverse wildlife that call our province home.

There are many ways to support AIWC in its wildlife rescue and conservation efforts. You can:

 

  1. “Adopt” an animal
  2. Invite our education team to your classroom
  3. Become a friend of AIWC
  4. Make a one-time monthly donation via CanadaHelps
  5. Help us build new enclosures and rehabilitation spaces. Contact us for a donor package
  6. Donate to the AIWC Forever Home Campaign
  7. Volunteer!
  8. Give from our wish list
  9. Leave a legacy or planned gift. Contact us for more information
  10. Attend an AIWC event
  11. Bring home your own copy of AIWC’s first children’s book: Scared Skunk

By Nina Grossman, AWIC Volunteer

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Snowy Owl Population Booms

About two or three years ago, I spotted the largest number of snowy owls I had ever seen in southern Alberta. I haven’t seen as many this winter season, and began to wonder if there was a reason for this. Maybe I have been spending less time out of the city this winter, I’m getting rusty at spotting them or maybe there is some other driving force that influences the snowy owl population size.

As an environmental scientist, I am familiar with the snowshoe hare-lynx population cycle so I did a little research to see if there was a similar population cycle with the snowy owl and one of their prey species.

The way the snowshoe hare-lynx population cycle works is like this:

  •  The hare population size increases when the population size of their predator—the lynx—is low.
  • As the hare population continues to increase due to predation by lynx being low, the lynx population begins to increase due to the abundance of preferred food, the snowshoe hare.
  • The snowshoe hare population eventually declines due to heavy predation brought on by the booming lynx population.
  • The lynx population follows the declining snowshoe hare trend shortly after with their own decline due to less available food.

The cycle continues like this, with booms and busts for each species (Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources). Of course, there are more factors that can come into play, but that is a simplified version.

With the snowy owl, there has been speculation and several recent studies on the relation between the snowy owl and lemming populations (Fears 2014; Smith 2014). Lemmings are small rodents that are related to voles and inhabit northern Canada. They reproduce quickly and reach peak population sizes every three to five years (Canadian Encyclopedia 2017).

There are two popular theories that explain lemming population cycles (Smith 2014):

  • Predators, such as the snowy owl drive lemming population cycles.
  • Lemmings drive their own population declines through over-population and overgrazing, which can lead to large scale die-offs.

In the summer of 2013, there was an abundance of lemmings in northern Canada. This resulted in high reproductive success rates for snowy owls and an abundance of snowy owl fledglings successfully leaving their nests. Because there were so many new owls the following winter season during their migration south, many of the young owls distributed themselves further south and closer together than normal (Fears 2014; Smith 2014). This is what lead to me seeing more snowy owls than ever before!

Lemming population booms have virtually stopped in Greenland and the Scandinavian Arctic (Fears 2014). Global warming is causing decreases in snow cover and changes in snow texture (IPCC 2014), which is believed to be causing the change in lemming population booms. Arctic Canada has also seen a trend of decreasing snow cover and increases in permafrost and surface temperatures (IPCC 2014). As trends continue in this direction, they will not favor the lemming and I speculate that we can expect to see population booms of the snowy owl become fewer and farther between.

AIWC usually receives a few snowy owls each year. Head over to our Adopt an Animal page (http://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/adopt-an-animal/) or call us at 403-946-2361 to help support a large raptor today!

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

Canadian Encyclopedia. 2017. Lemming. Available at: http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/lemming/

Fears, Darryl. 2014. Lemmings fuel biggest snowy-owl migration in 50 years. Guardian Weekly. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2014/feb/24/snowy-owl-lemming-population-us-canada

IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change). 2014. Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar5/syr/SYR_AR5_FINAL_full_wcover.pdf

Northwest Territories Environment and Natural Resources. Date unknown. Lynx-Snowshoe Hare Cycle. Available at: http://www.enr.gov.nt.ca/node/3052

Smith, Joe. 2014. The Amazing Lemming: The Rodent Behind the Snowy Owl Invasion? Cool Green Science: by Smarter Nature. Available at: http://blog.nature.org/science/2014/01/21/the-amazing-lemming-the-rodent-behind-the-snowy-owl-invasion/

 

Grizzly Bears

Photo credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Imagine the tallest human being in history, Robert Pershing Wadlow who was 2.47 meters tall. Now imagine a grizzly bear standing on his hind legs. Who do you think is taller? You may be surprised to find out that these behemoth bears can be over three meters tall when standing. Now how much would you suppose a 3-meter-tall grizzly weighs? What if I said over 325 kilograms! Does that sound crazy? Also, do not go thinking that you can outrun them either, since grizzlies can reach speeds of up to fifty-five kilometers per hour, and are excellent swimmers too!

Roughly, 50,000 years ago these magnificent beasts traversed the Bering land bridge making the journey from Eurasia to North America. Due to their travel itch, these bears have become the most widespread species in the entire world; however, we did not know this for some period. In fact, in the 19th century people thought there were 86 different species of grizzly! It was not until 1953 that we discovered that despite being geographically isolated and having different coat colours and sizes, that these were all in fact one species known as the brown bear, Ursus arctos. One particular subspecies the grizzly, Ursus arctos horribilis, is a little bit more aggressive then the rest. You can tell grizzlies apart from the tamer black bear – which is sometimes brown especially in open, sunny areas – by the grizzly’s dished face, and by their large muscular shoulder hump that is used for digging dens. Grizzly bear tracks are also different from that of black bears due to their longer claws.

Grizzlies may be more aggressive compared with other brown bear subspecies due to their history on the prairies. With a lack of shelter, grizzlies became accustomed to standing their ground, and naturally had to defend themselves instead of hiding.

The population in Canada has dwindled down to 20,000, being mostly located in British Columbia, but also throughout the Alberta Rockies, Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut. Historically, in Alberta, grizzly population levels were at 6,000-9,000 bears. In 2002, their numbers dropped to around 1,000, and in 2006 there was a hunting ban, but it was not until their population fell to 691 in 2010 that they became listed as a threatened species in Alberta. Presently in Alberta, you will find them in the Banff and Jasper National parks, as well as on the foothills along the mountains, and in the northwest boreal forest.

The biggest hurdle towards achieving a sustainable grizzly population is habitat fragmentation. When grizzly populations become isolated and fragmented they become susceptible to local extinction due to inbreeding, disease, fire, and human induced mortality. Many of these sub populations of grizzly are going extinct and one of the main causes of fragmentation are roads. Some reasons roads cause bear deaths are because of vehicle collisions and poaching. Also, female grizzlies are reluctant to cross roads, which reduces their ability to breed and to gather resources for winter. Typical female ranges are 150 – 3,000 km2 and so a reduced range may prevent her from gathering enough fat before winter. If she does manage to survive, less weight means that fewer cubs will be born.

So you may be asking yourself now, “What can I do to protect this iconic species?” Well for starters, always make sure to properly dispose of your trash and waste on campgrounds. Make sure to scare off grizzlies if you see one by making lots of noise. Try to avoid encounters as much as possible, by avoiding smaller trails, industrial access roads, and areas with lots of berries in the fall. Make sure you report bear sightings to your local authority to prevent conflicts with humans and watch out for bears on the road!

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 to items from our wish list, purchasing your copy of Scared Skunk or volunteering at the center.

By Michael Orr, AIWC volunteer

References:

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). 2016. Grizzly Bear. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/bears/grizzly-bear.aspx

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). 2016. Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/files/GrizzlyBearRecoveryPlanDraft-Jun01-2016.pdf

Alberta Wilderness Association. The grizzly bear is one of the most glamorous and prestigious wildlife species in Alberta. Available at: https://albertawilderness.ca/issues/wildlife/grizzly-bear/

British Columbia Ministry of Environment. 2002. Grizzly Bears In British Columbia. Available at: http://www.env.gov.bc.ca/wld/documents/grzzlybear.pdf

Bear With Us. 2017. The Eight (8) Bear Species of the World. Available at: http://bearwithus.org/8-bears-of-the-world/

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). 2016. Alberta bear attacks have some on high alert. Available at: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/alberta-bear-attack-high-alert-1.3690462

David Suzuki Foundation. Help Protect Canada’s Shrinking Grizzly Bear Population. Available at: http://davidsuzuki.org/issues/wildlife-habitat/projects/grizzly-bears/learnmore/

Parks Canada. 2014. Bears In The Mountain National Parks Grizzly Bears. Available at: http://www.pc.gc.ca/pn-np/mtn/ours-bears/generaux-basics/grizzli-grizzly.aspx

Keystone Species 

Similar to a keystone which provides the stability to an archway, a keystone species helps provide stability to the surrounding ecosystem. Most animals play a vital role in the well-being of their local environments and the other species that inhabit them, but some deliver more critical services that are essential to maintaining balance. Some animals build new nests or burrows year after year while other animals borrow these discarded homes and would be without shelter if this keystone species was lost.

Pollinators like bumblebees, butterflies, and hummingbirds help sustain the next generation of plants by cross-fertilizing which produces fruits, seeds and vegetables for other animals to eat. Predators like wasps, wolves and cougars help prevent herbivores like beetles, rabbits and deer from over-eating those plants so that they can be pollinated again in future seasons.

Keystone species may also sustain the soil and water quality. Wolves may prey on deer which prevents the deer from eating too many saplings in a given area. This allows shoots to develop into large trees, whose root systems prevent erosion and support river banks. The rivers can then maintain adequate depths, turbidity, nutrient levels and temperatures to support fish and other aquatic plants and animals.

Alberta is home to a number of keystone species. These include beavers whose dams create ecosystems for many other animals like moose and ducks, Richardson’s ground squirrels whose underground tunneling aerates the soil to support native grasses while also providing shelter to other animals and grey wolves who help to maintain a healthy population of ungulates. Without these important species, ecosystems may become imbalanced which in turn could lead to an increase in the number of displaced wildlife that end up in conflict with humans and who ultimately find their way into AIWC’s care.

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

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Jumping, Scurrying and Scampering

Running across electrical wires, up trees and across roads, you’re probably pretty familiar with Sciuridae. Wait a second, what is that? Let me tell you!

Sciuridae is the animal family that includes tree squirrels, ground squirrels, flying squirrels, marmots, prairie dogs, chipmunks and more.

Around Alberta, you probably see one of these bushy-tailed species (the red squirrel) on a regular basis.

These furry friends are most recognisable by their tails, which make up almost half their length! Squirrels use their tails for balance as they jump from tree to tree or rooftop to rooftop. They are agile, aren’t they? It seems like squirrels are everywhere in Alberta!

Their natural habitat is in Alberta’s boreal, coniferous or mixed forests. But squirrels seem comfortable living just about anywhere.

A squirrel’s diet consists mainly of seeds and nuts, and they have a special place in their hearts for pinecones and spruce tree droppings!

Did you know that squirrels might also eat things like bird’s eggs, flowers, fruits, mushrooms and more? They are savvy little rodents who get by on what they can.

Unlike other types of squirrels, red squirrels don’t bother with hibernating through the winter. They aren’t scared of a little cold weather! Red squirrels stay active throughout the winter by collecting nuts and climbing trees just like they do the rest of the year!

Red squirrels start breeding in March or April, giving birth to four or five pups a couple of months later. Babies are usually born in the cavities of trees or in nests built into branches.

Tip: Trying to figure out if squirrels are around?  Look for piles of cones or discarded shells from previous nut meals.

Another common Sciuridae is the Red-tailed Chipmunk. These small rodents are only about 21 to 25 cm long and just like squirrels, their tails make up roughly half of their total body length.

Chipmunks are reddish in colour and have bright orange or rust colours under their tails. They have signature stripes in black or brown and light tawny or creamy white.

Alberta chipmunks tend to dwell in conifer forests in the subalpine regions of Waterton Lakes National Park and the West Castle Valley.

Chipmunks enjoy munching on seeds from saskatoon, wild rose and snowbrush bushes. They eat leaves, flowers and fruits from these plants.

Unlike their squirrel cousins, chipmunks tend to spend winter alone in their burrows. But don’t feel bad for the little critters; come spring, female chipmunks use their burrows as nurseries for litters of two to four young.

Keep an eye out for these little rodents. Alberta is full of diverse, beautiful wildlife, and you don’t even need to look further than the electrical poles outside your house to find them!

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

“Each species is a masterpiece, a creation assembled with extreme care and genius.” Edward O. Wilson

Sources:

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

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

http://animaldiversity.org/accounts/Sciuridae/

 

Species At Risk

The human population interferes with natural habitat and wildlife every single day. If there was not protection for wildlife species, we would most definitely see increasing rates of extinction -more so than we have already seen around the world.

Alberta has policies in place to help our wildlife from becoming closer to extinction and has rankings for species that are at risk.

What is a Species at Risk?

“Species at Risk are the most vulnerable components of Alberta’s biodiversity and require special attention to maintain and recover their populations and habitats” (AESRD 2014).

There are different rankings for Species at Risk, and a detailed status assessment is created to help determine the proper designation. The Species at Risk rankings are (AESRD 2014):

  • Endangered – when a species may soon become extirpated (disappear from their range in Alberta), or extinct.
  • Threatened – when a species is likely to become endangered if certain factors are not reversed.
  • Species of Special Concern – a species with characteristics that make them particularly sensitive to human activities or natural events.
  • Data Deficient – when there is insufficient scientific information to support status designation of a species.

What do these rankings mean?

  • A species with the designation of Endangered or Threatened will receive protection and a recovery plan. Recovery plans have a goal of attempting to ensure long-term survival of the species in their natural habitats in the wild (AESRD 2014).
  • Prevention programs also exist for Species of Special Concern with the goal of preventing these species from becoming Threatened or Endangered (AESRD 2014).

How do you know the ranking of a species?

One of the most famous examples of a recovery program that helped a population rebound back from the brink of extinction is the whooping crane. The whooping crane breeds in Northern Alberta, and migrates to Texas in the winter. Without human intervention, the whooping crane could have easily disappeared. There were only 21 individuals left in 1941, and with the help of a breeding program, the whooping crane population is now at 600 individuals (Cornell University 2015). While this species is still listed as Endangered today, they have a fighting chance of survival due to human intervention.

How can YOU help?

  • AIWC is dedicated to helping wildlife that needs assistance.
  • By supporting AIWC, you are increasing survival rates of individual animals in our care, as well as helping to try to ensure the survival of their species.
  • To see the many different ways you can help support AIWC, please follow this link: http://www.aiwc.ca/support-us/

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

References:

Alberta Environment and Parks (AEP). 2017. Endangered, Threatened, Special Concern and Data Deficient Species in Alberta. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/documents/SpeciesAssessedConservation-2014a.pdf

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development (AESRD). 2014. A Guide to Endangered and Threatened Species, and Species of Special Concern in Alberta. Version 1. Edmonton, AB. 84 pp. Available at: http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/species-at-risk/species-at-risk-publications-web-resources/documents/SpeciesAtRiskGuide-Jan-2015.pdf

Cornell University. 2014. Whooping Crane. Available at: https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Whooping_Crane/lifehistory

 

 

 

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