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Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Swift Fox

What are swift foxes?

As the name suggests, the swift fox (Vulpes velox) is a speedy little fox species once found in the prairies and foothills of the southern Alberta Rockies and in Saskatchewan and Manitoba. The species can be distinguished from other vulpine species by its small size (usually no bigger than a large housecat), which allows them to reach top speeds of up to 60 km/hr. Other defining traits include vertical cat-like eyes, black facial spots on the sides of their muzzles, and long, black-tipped bushy tails (AEP species profile; Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Plan 2006-2011).

Where are swift foxes found?

The swift fox was originally distributed in large populations across the Canadian Prairies, but declined due to poorly implemented trapping and predator control programs and an increase in agrarian development in the late 1800’s. This led the Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada to classify the species as extirpated (locally extinct) in 1978. (ASFPR 2006-2011; COSEWIC).

Thankfully, a large project put together by the Smeetons of the Cochrane Ecological Institute (CEI) successfully re-introduced the species both in Canada and certain states in America, and this project is considered one of the most successful re-introductions of a small carnivore species worldwide (ASFPR 2006-2011; Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

How was the swift fox re-introduced to Alberta?

Initial populations of swift foxes to be used in breeding and captive-rearing programs were taken from populations across North America and brought to Alberta. Between 1983 and 1997, the CEI provided over 800 swift foxes, captive-bred and reared for eventual release into the wild.

The main goals of the associated research were to achieve the first successful re-introduction of an extirpated mammalian species; to develop non-intrusive monitoring methods for at-risk/endangered species, and to use this data to create a “blueprint” for other countries to follow regarding their own endangered species (Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

Among the most important aspects of any re-introduction project is to ensure that the captive-bred and captive-reared species are taught the skills necessary for them to survive in the wild, including hunting for wild prey. However, these skills alone are not enough for a successful re-introduction, as the methods of release and location are also extremely important (Weagle & Smeeton 1997; CEI 1995).

Why was the swift fox re-introduction important?

The loss of any species is always a tragedy, especially when it is due to preventable human impacts. Swift foxes are a unique part of the prairie ecosystem, as they are omnivorous and will feed on almost anything, including pest species such as mice or insects (AEP profile). They are also important bio-indicators (species that can tell us the health of the ecosystem they occupy) as swift foxes thrive best in large, unbroken expanses of short grass prairie with high prey numbers/variation. If the number of swift foxes dwindle, it can tell us that there may be greater ecosystem problems, such as pollutants or excessive prey reduction (Adamus 1996).  It is our responsibility to ensure that at-risk species are given the help they need to survive, not just for the species itself, but for the health of the larger ecosystem they contribute to.

What more needs to be done, and how can we help?

At last estimate, there are less than 100 swift foxes living in southern Alberta, according to the AEP swift fox profile. They are currently protected under the federal Species at Risk Act (SARA), the Canadian National Parks and Alberta Wildlife Acts. It is prohibited to kill, harm, or harass the species. But these governmental acts are not enough to preserve them alone.

The Alberta swift fox re-introduction, while deemed a success, in that the species is no longer locally extinct, has had different results than another study (also done by the Smeetons and the CEI) with the Blackfeet Nation in Montana. The study in Montana had full control over release site selection and methodology, and provided post-program surveying and was far more effective, with a survival rate of over 75% after the first four years, compared to the 20% shown in the Canadian study (Weagle & Smeeton 1997).

It is therefore clear that a lot more research, surveying and monitoring of the captive-bred reintroductions is needed in Alberta. Post-release surveys and breeding programs are crucial in helping the species survive.

We lost this amazing species once. We can’t let it happen again.

Are you interesting in learning how to support injured and orphaned wildlife in Alberta? Visit for more information.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer


Adamus, P.R. (1996). Bioindicators for assessing ecological integrity of prairie wetlands. EPA/600/R-96/082. U.S Environmental Protection Agency, National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory, Western Ecology Division, Corvalis, OR.

Alberta Environment and Parks, Swift Fox profile (

Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Plan (2006-2011). Alberta Swift Fox Recovery Team. Alberta Sustainable Research Development, Fish and Wildlife division, Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan No. 14. Edmonton, AB. 23pp.

Committee on the Status of Endangered Species in Canada (COSEWIC) (

Weagle, K., and Smeeton, C. (1997). Captive breeding of Swift Fox for re-introduction: Final Report. Cochrane Ecological Institute, P.O box 484, Cochrane AB.

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Help AIWC win $5,000!

Did you know that you can help AIWC win $5,000 by simply voting for us in a competition? We have been entered into the All Star Slots charity competition and we need your help to win the top slot and earn $5,000 for AIWC!

With your help, we can win $5,000 that will be put towards crucial food and medical supplies needed for the nearly 2,000 wild animals we admit each year. The cost to rehabilitate an individual animal can range from over $100.00 to over $1,000.00.

We need your support to provide wildlife with a second chance. 95% of the cases we see are admitted due to human conflict in some way, whether it be they were hit by a car, hit a window or powerline, were attacked by a cat or dog, or unintentionally kidnapped by a well-meaning individual.

Please consider voting for AIWC. Registration or sharing of personal information is not required, it takes a couple of clicks and AIWC is then one stop closer to winning much needed funds.

Vote for AIWC today:

Thank you for your support!

Every Wild Life Matters

The crow seen in the above photo was admitted to AIWC near the end of May 2017 after being found in a northeast Calgary backyard, unable to fly.

AIWC staff are unsure what happened to the crow. He suffered a fracture to his right humerus and right radius.

The crow underwent surgery at AIWC and is receiving regular physiotherapy with staff. He will recover at AIWC’s facility until he is well enough to be released into the wild.

Crows, which are part of the corvidae family, have often been seen a nuisance due to their abundance, loud calls and fearless manner. However, these highly intelligent birds are actually beneficial to humans as they consume large quantities of insects and pests (“Crows & Magpies”). For more information on the ingenuity and intelligence of crows, see

AIWC operated on the tenet that “every wild life matters”, no matter how small or common the animal may be. Each creature found in our province plays an important role in Alberta’s ecosystems.

In 2016, AIWC treated 1,889 wild animals and helped hundreds more by assisting the public with wildlife-related issues. AIWC welcomes wildlife of all sizes and prevalence, from crows to moose calves.

Are you interested in helping AIWC’s efforts to care for Alberta’s wildlife? Visit to find out how you can get involved today!

Works Cited

“Crows & Magpies.” Crows & Magpies / Alberta Environment and Parks, 19 Feb. 2014, <>.

Birds of a Feather: Some of Alberta’s Most Common Bird Species

They’re tapping at our windows, singing us morning songs and tantalizing Alberta’s felines, but who exactly are these little feathered friends? Aside from the obvious red-breasted robins or black-capped chickadees, how much do you know about Alberta’s most common birds?

Below is a brief introduction to Alberta birds! Be prepared to wow your friends with your bird knowledge!


House sparrow: House sparrows are chunky with full chests, rounded heads and stout bills. Males have gray heads, white cheeks, black bibs and reddish-brown necks, while females are a more dull brown. These sparrows are noisy and come out of their nest holes to pick at crumbs or seeds. They’ve been tolerating humans for centuries and are now quite comfortable hanging out on city streets, zoos, parking lots or more.

American tree sparrow: These plump little sparrows keep busy in the winter months, hunting for seeds, weeds and grass heads. In the springtime, these little sparrows head even further north to their breeding grounds in the tundra. You will recognize an American tree sparrow by his rusty cap and eyeliner on a gray, chubby-looking body.

White-throated sparrow: These are flashy little sparrows with spunk to match. They have black and white striped heads, bright white throats and yellow between the eye and bill. To identify a white-throated sparrow, look for a prominent bill, long legs and a narrow tail. You’re most likely to find these little sparrows in wooded area and forest edges. In the winter, they often nest in parks and woodsy suburbs.


Black-capped chickadee: No one can resist these undeniably adorable little birds. Black-capped chickadees have tiny bodies, oversized heads and big eyes. With a black cap and bib, this chickadee is easy to find and is usually happy to investigate people while searching out seeds, berries and birdfeeders. Often nesting in birch or alder trees, black-capped chickadees stay in Alberta year round.

Boreal chickadee: You aren’t likely to find one of these brown-capped chickadees in Southern Alberta. They are one of the only birds that live completely within the biome of the northern boreal forest. They have brownish caps and bibs and white cheeks.


House finch: The house finch has a bright red head and breast with brownish wings and body. Even if you’ve never seen one of these little finches, you’ve probably heard them! Their long, twittering song is heard in neighbourhoods around North America. These little birds are cheerful and like to frequent birdfeeders, just like the little chickadees! They are hardy birds too, happy to make homes in urban and rural areas or in their native habitats of deserts, grasslands and open forest.

Purple finch: You’re most likely to see one of these strawberry-coloured finches in the winter, when they come by to feed from birdfeeders. It’s easy to mix them up with the house finch, but look closely at their colouring and you’ll notice that the red-pink of their faces mixes into the brown and white of their bodies in an almost ombré-toned manner.


Red-breasted nuthatch: These are active, hoppy little birds that make a “yank-yank” sound as they search tree bark for hiding insects. These tiny nuthatches have short tails, a plump body and almost no neck! They are blue-gray in colour with black caps, white stripes above their eyes and a rusty-red underbelly. Look for these bubbly little birds among spruce, fir, pine, hemlock, and poplar trees.

White-breasted nuthatch: Like their red-breasted friends, these nuthatches are full of energy, springing through backyards as they search for bountiful birdfeeders. Do you wonder how the nuthatches got their name? They like to take large nuts and acorns and ram them against trees until the seeds “hatch.” That’s exactly what you can find these black, blue-gray and white nuthatches doing along woodland edges.

Now that you have a very brief introduction to the types of feathered backyard visitors in Alberta, you can share your knowledge! The more you learn about the beautifully diverse, intricate species that inhabit our province, the more you will appreciate the natural world.

Do you want to help AIWC in its mission to conserve, rehabilitate and spread awareness of Alberta wildlife? You can volunteer, donate and much more. For more information on how you can support AIWC, visit

“Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.”
-Gary Snyder

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

Donation Items Needed for AIWC Garage Sale!!

Are there things you want to purge during your spring cleaning? If so, you’re just in time to donate much needed items to AIWC’s upcoming garage sale!! 

The last opportunity to donate items is June 3rd from 11 – 2 at the AIWC property.

Tell your friends, your family and your colleagues! 

Thank your for your support! 

We are happy to accept the following items:

Small working appliances, tools, dishware, artwork, frames, books, jewelry, home décor, pet accessories, chairs, children’s toys, garden tools and equipment, camping equipment, and sporting equipment.

Please no:
Clothes, magazines, large furniture, large exercise equipment, electronics such as box style TVs
or child car seats

For any questions regarding AIWC’s garage sale, please email us at

Ducklings and Goslings, Oh My!

Is there anything more endearing than a baby bird? Whether it’s a fluffy yellow-brown duckling, a waddling gosling or even a wide-eyed owl baby, baby birds have a soft spot in every wildlife lover’s heart. And with the blooms and greenery of spring come the birth of wildlife babies around Alberta.

AIWC has been receiving plenty of calls lately about ducklings and goslings.

Ducklings and goslings can be stranded for a number of reasons such as late hatching, injury, human/pet interference or simply getting lost.

Here are some tips in case you come across one of these baby birds:

Look for Mom! Female ducks tend to stay close to their babies and Mom could be nearby. If possible, it’s always best to leave babies with Mom because she knows exactly how to care for them. If you’re wondering whether or not the baby is flying solo, remember that ducklings stay under their mother’s care until they are ready to fly. If you observe a gosling or duckling alone for more than 45 minutes, the babies could be in trouble. Call AIWC.

It’s okay to move a baby duck that is injured or in danger. The mother duck will not reject the baby because of human scent.

Orphaned ducklings need professional care, right away. They can die from the cold because they can’t generate their own body heat. Keep in mind that ducklings are fragile and can be easily injured or bruised if mishandled. They are very fragile! Call AIWC!

Unlike geese, ducks won’t adopt lone ducklings. Ducks recognize their babies by sound and will notice the outsider. If you are holding a duckling that is “peeping” a mother duck should come running up right away!
(Geese on the other hand are fine with accepting new babies and don’t seem phased by the additions! In fact, AIWC volunteers have rescued and rehomed 46 geese and goslings this year).

Always remember that if a duckling or gosling’s parents are near by, you need to leave the baby where you found it.

It’s always okay to call AIWC for advice in any wildlife situation. For more information on how you can support AIWC, visit

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever does.”

-Margaret Mead







Poisons and Predators

This blog post is inspired by a recent bald eagle patient who was admitted to AIWC due to lead poisoning. I want to explore the different reasons behind how and why wildlife can become poisoned.

Some birds of prey die from secondary poisoning after feeding on waterfowl or deer containing lead shot as a result of ingestion or hunting (Government of Canada 2013, FWS 2015). Although lead bullets are banned across Canada, they are still widely used today (Gladue 1999, Government of Canada 2013, Williams 2017). Many of the lead shots that are fired don’t actually hit the intended target, and end up in the surrounding environment (Gladue 1999).

What happens to the lead once it ends up in the soil or a waterbody? It can accumulate in the tissues of living organisms and act as a poison to some species.

Bioaccumulation (also known as bioconcentration) is the effect whereby some metals and chemicals occur in higher concentrations in living organisms than they do in the surrounding environment, such as the water or soil (Freedman 2007).

Biomagnification (also known as food-web magnification) is the effect whereby top predators or species higher up in the food chain have higher concentrations of these metals and chemicals in their tissue (Freedman 2007).

Metals and chemicals that bioaccumulate tend to be absorbed and stored in the fat of the animal that consumes them, rather than excreted. The higher up on the food chain an animal is, the more organisms the animals may eat that contain metals and chemicals. The more the animal eats, the more metals and chemicals are absorbed. Additionally, the older an animal gets, the more contaminated the animal can become due to the accumulation of the substances over a longer period of time (Freedman 2007).

The most classic example that exists of bioaccumulation is that of DDT – Dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (what a mouth full!). DDT was a widely-used pesticide in the past and has roots during World War II. It was highly effective at eliminating mosquito populations and therefore preventing soldiers and civilians from contracting diseases that the mosquitoes carried. Eventually, this pesticide was used globally and we began to see detrimental effects on birds higher up in the food chain, such as birds of prey. As the DDT accumulated in the soil and water it began to bioaccumulate in the plants, insects, rodents, fish, and other animals lower down in the food chain. Birds of prey ate these organisms and the effect of bioaccumulation continued. DDT affected the reproduction of many birds of prey, caused egg shells to be soft and kill the offspring inside or caused eggs not to hatch altogether.

The population of bald eagles in North America crashed to less than 500 individuals in the 1960s (estimates of the bald eagle population less than 200 years earlier were as many as 100,000) (FWS 2015). Thus, the use of DDT was banned in North America and most of the rest of the world and the bald eagle population has seen a health rebound as a result. However, it is still used in South America and other parts of the developing world (Freedmand 2007).

Another example of bioaccumulation is with the common loon and methylmercury. This bird is a top predator in many lakes across Canada and can contain concentrations of methylmercury so high that it impedes their reproduction (Freedman 2007).

There are also some other factors that come into play when an animal is exposed to a poison. The toxicity of a poison may impact organisms differently due to the exposure or dose of the poison, which can further impact an organism due to the concentration of the poison and the amount of time the animal is exposed (Freedman 2007). The vulnerability or tolerance of the organism to a specific poison will also impact the toxicity of a poison (Freedman 2007). Bald eagles are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning and it only takes a small amount of lead to result in severe poisoning (Williams 2017).

There are several ways that you can help prevent poisoning of wildlife, and this blog wants to stress the importance of:

  • using non-lead ammunition for hunting and clay pigeon target practice.
  • hunters burying entrails or discarding them in a way that other wildlife won’t have access to them (Williams 2017).

Lead can also be found in some fishing lures, sinkers and jigs and is a major cause of death among common loons in eastern Canada and the US (Government of Canada 2013). This can be prevented by ensuring non-lead fishing lures are used.

Animals can show a variety of symptoms associated with poisoning, including but not limited to weakness, inability to walk, stand or fly (Williams 2017). If you think you have spotted a wild animal that has been poisoned, please call us at 403-946-2361.

If you would like to help future patients who may need special care due to poisoning, please support us ( or contact us to see how you can help.

Another great way to help the wildlife is to educate children; we offer education programs to do just this! Head on over to our Wildlife Education Programs page ( for more information.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer


Freedman, Bill. 2007. Environmental Science: A Canadian Perspective. Fourth Edition. Pearson Education Canada, Toronto, Ontario.

FWS (US Fish and Wildlife Service). 2015. Fact Sheet: Natural History, Ecology, and History of Recovery. Available at

Gladue, Yvonne Irene. 1999. Lead shot banned across the country. Alberta’s Aboriginal News Publication. Volume 7, Issue 10.

Government of Canada. 2013. Research, Wildlife and Landscape Science. Available at,viewfull&po=B5BB0941

Williams, Cassie. 2017. Hunters say non-toxic ammo hard to find as 7th lead-poisoned eagle found. CBC News. Available at

Alberta Wetlands

Wetlands play a crucial role in Alberta’s wilderness by providing habitat for hundreds of species. These permanent or temporary wet areas cover approximately twenty percent of the province and are essential to the water cycle and aquifer replenishment. Wetlands are capable of absorbing large amounts of water making them invaluable to flood mitigation. Additionally, the wide variety of soils and microorganisms in wetlands help to filter water of harmful toxins making it safer for animals and humans to consume.

There are five classes of wetland which may be identified based on the source of water, presence of peat and the types of vegetation supported. These include marshes, ponds, swamps, fens and bogs which may be found across the prairies and forests of Alberta.

Each type of wetland is home to many species ranging from zooplankton through to moose. Grasses, shrubs, and trees also feature differently in each wetland class, but all help to provide food and shelter to fish, frogs, birds, rodents and larger mammals. This makes wetlands a great place for people to experience biodiversity and engage with nature because there are so many opportunities to witness animals in action! If you’re lucky, you may see a beaver or muskrat busy at work, a paddling of ducks, brightly coloured migratory birds or a deer stopping to drink. Looking closer, you will likely find the water is teaming with tadpoles, water striders or snails.

While wetlands have often been viewed as a nuisance in the past, their value is increasingly recognized and measures are being taken to protect these areas and the animals that call them home.

You can help by learning more about wetlands and by supporting AIWC’s rehabilitation of wetland wildlife. By dropping off donations from our Wish List, participating in our annual Month of May Baby Shower or signing up for our next Volunteer intake in September, you will be contributing to the recovery and release of wetland creatures.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer






Month of May Baby Shower


All the signs of spring are here… the weather is getting warmer, tulips and daffodils have surfaced and the sweet songs of robins fill the air. Unfortunately, though, otherwise healthy baby hares have begun to arrive at AIWC due to unnecessary intervention by well-meaning members of the public.

Baby hares are one example of the many reasons why busy season has arrived at AIWC, and why it is just the beginning in terms of the numbers of animals who will come into our care during the spring and summer months.  History shows that our clinic can expect to have 200-300 patients in care between May and September – most of them babies such as bunnies, nestlings and skunk kits.

Please remember to keep this excerpt from last week’s blog in mind “a baby hare that appears abandoned may not be in any trouble at all but could be waiting for his or her mom to come back to feed them. Mother hares often leave their babies for hours during the day to avoid attracting predators with her scent or movement. Moving these babies can cause far more problems than leaving them. Before intervening with a lone baby or in any situation, give AIWC a call for advice”.

Other than leaving baby hares where you find them, there are many ways to help support AIWC’s wildlife babies this spring. Members of the community can get involved by simply finding out more about our Annual Month of May Baby Shower:

  • Enter our Feeders for Feathers contest!
  • Donate to our baby shower!
  • Attend our onsite talk!
  • Donate items from our wish list!
  • Buy a copy of Scared Skunk!

Please visit our website at for more details on ways to help during the month of May!

Spring Fever: Six ways you can help support wildlife this season

Warmer months mean more wildlife! Whether it’s the birth of spring litters or creatures coming out of hibernation, spring is a busy time for Alberta’s wild world.

Here are six ways you can help conserve and protect.

1. Renovate your own outdoor space. A few quick changes can make your yard or property more welcoming to wildlife. Planting native flora, providing a water source and not using any plant or lawn chemicals will help. There are natural ways to control what grows in your space.

Reconsider cutting down trees that could be important nest or habitat sites for birds, squirrels,         raccoons, insects and other critters. If you must remove a tree, check it over carefully to make           sure you aren’t cutting down an active den or nest.

2. Think twice about trash. Consider that poor disposal of garbage causes problems for wildlife around the world. Here in Alberta we can do our part by disposing of garbage in bear-safe garbage sites when we are out in the wilderness, and never, ever littering.

Spring is a great time to revamp your environmental footprint. Consider composting as a great disposal option for weeds, lawn clippings and food waste.

You can go a step further by evaluating how much waste you’re producing! Can you cut back on items that come with excessive packaging or aren’t biodegradable? These are small decisions that can make a big difference for the environment and the wildlife that call it home.

3. STOP! CALL AIWC! (Or another local registered wildlife rehabilitator.) It’s a point that begs repeating. A baby hare that appears abandoned may not be in any trouble at all but could be waiting for his or her mom to come back to feed them. Mother hares often leave their babies for hours during the day to avoid attracting predators with scent or movement. Moving these babies can cause far more problems than leaving them. Before intervening with a lone baby or in any situation, give AIWC a call for advice.

4. Contrary to popular belief, it’s okay to pick up a baby bird. If you see a baby that seems too young to be out of their nest call AIWC for advice. If advised to do so, it’s ok to gently and safely place him or her back. Watch from a distance to see that the parents are feeding upon their return.

5. Get rid of anything that could be a trap! During spring and summer, many wild animals are seeking out dens and nest sites. Sometimes they end up in less than ideal locations like in an attic, chimney or under a deck. Scope out the areas ahead of time to prevent this. If wildlife has already moved in, don’t set traps! Wait and see if the family moves out on its own before considering humane eviction options. You can always call AIWC for advice.

6. Support AIWC. Volunteering or donating helps AIWC do its very best to keep Alberta wildlife safe in the spring. Your contributions make all the difference.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer

“Our relationship with nature is more one of being than having.  We are nature: we do not have nature.” -Unknown





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