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Living Alongside our Wild Neighbour

At AIWC, we are seeing a large increase in the number of baby skunks (kits) being admitted to our centre, and the numbers are worrisome. The cause for the increase? The main reason is that the mothers are being trapped by property owners and removed from the area. Not only is this terrifying for her, but as a result her babies become orphaned. Currently we have 30 skunk kits in care, the majority of them admitted after their mother was trapped.

Skunk kits rely on their mother for food and care for the first few months of their life. Since skunks are mainly nocturnal, if you see skunk kits out during the day without their mother nearby, it’s a good indication something is wrong. Please monitor them and call our Wildlife Hotline 403-946-2361 for advice.

There is no reason to worry if there are skunks living in your area or on your property, as they generally keep to themselves.  Many people are completely unaware that they have skunks in their area. If you do get too close to a skunk they will give you warning signs before resorting to spraying:

  • Stamping their feet
  • Hissing
  • Raising their tail
  • Charging toward you

Since it can take up to ten days for skunks to replenish their scent, they will only spray as a last resort.

Removing skunks from their territory will only make room for more skunks to move in.  Be proactive if you would rather not share your space!  Here are a few simple tips to consider to help prevent skunks from moving onto your property:

  • Keep all dog and cat food, birdseed etc. indoors – especially at night.
  • Use heavy plastic or metal garbage/recycle bins with securely fastened lids to prevent odors from escaping.
  • Keep BBQ grills clean and/ or stored inside.
  • Keep the area well lit.  Motion detectors work best.

Learning how to cohabitate peacefully with local skunks can be accomplished!  For more information on how to get along with skunks give us a call. Don’t forget to pass this information along to your friends and neighbours.

Want to learn more about skunks? Read more on our website here.

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.

Patient numbers soar at AIWC!

As awareness about our organization grows and human-wildlife conflict unfortunately continues to rise, we expect an increase in patients each year. We didn’t expect the increase we are seeing this year though; already in 2016 we have admitted over 700 wild animals. This is an increase of nearly 70% compared to the same time last year.

There are several reasons we attribute to the increase in patient numbers, one being that there is more awareness about our organization. Secondly, the warmer weather has led to wild animals breeding earlier than normal. We admitted our first great horned owl baby (owlet) a month earlier than normal this year.

At AIWC, we experience extreme peak seasons of animal intake and care, despite being open year-round. May through August are our busiest months for animal care, when on any given day we can have 200-300 animals in care. In comparison, from November to February we typically have 20-30 animals in care.

95% of animals are injured or orphaned due to human activities. The most common causes of injury are window strikes, vehicle collision, hitting power lines, barbed wire, fishing line entanglement or ingestion, domestic cat and dog attacks, and exposure to toxins. Often wildlife is orphaned by rescuing of babies who should have been left where they were.

How Can You Help?

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.


AIWC Caring for an Influx of Early Birds

Baby birds require almost constant care, and the number of birds admitted to AIWC has doubled since this time last year! As a result, staff and volunteers are busier than ever, putting in extra hours to take care for the centre’s avian patients.

Volunteers recently got a lesson in caring for orphaned and injured birds when a workshop was held at AIWC. At the workshop, they learned about caring for baby birds, from species identification to mixing specialized formula to feed them – baby birds start out needing to be fed every 15 minutes!

Since the birds are not able to take care of themselves, volunteers also learned to build them artificial nests. Branches and towels are used for larger birds like raptors, while smaller birds can be housed in cozy nests of yarn knitted by AIWC supporters.

The warm winter and early spring has resulted in an increase in all types of wildlife arriving at the centre, and at earlier arrival times. The first bird fledglings arrived almost a month early in 2016 at the end of April. This year, the first great horned owl nestling was admitted on March 16th , while in 2014, the first great horned owl baby wasn’t admitted until April 20th. (To read more: )

Volunteer rescue drivers have also been working around the clock rescuing waterfowl such as Canadian geese, often found stranded at the top of high-rise buildings.

The warmer temperatures mean that birds who have migrated back to the province are able to mate and nest earlier than normal. More birds also chose to over-winter here this year instead of migrating. In addition, more food resources in the environment mean parents are able feed and care for larger numbers of young.

With more people outside enjoying the warm weather, however, it’s important to remember that most of the wildlife into the centre is not, in fact, orphaned. Often would-be rescuers separate animals from their mothers, who may just be off gathering food. That’s why if you see a baby bird on its own but otherwise safe and healthy, you should leave it where it is and call AIWC (403-946-2361) before intervening.

The influx of new patients means greater costs at the centre. Raptors, a family of birds that includes owls and hawks, can cost up to $10 per day per baby just to feed. You can support the work of the centre by making a donation, and additional volunteers are always appreciated.

The earlier admissions and numbers of patients seen by AIWC is consistent with long-term data from around Canada, showing earlier arrival dates for migrating birds correlating with warming trends in the earths climate. “A study of 63 years of data for 96 species of bird migrants in Canada showed that 27 species have altered their arrival dates significantly, with most arriving earlier, in conjunction with warming spring temperatures,” says Nature Canada. In addition, “one large-scale study showed that birds are laying eggs at an average rate of 6.6 days earlier per decade.”

By: J. Edwards, Volunteer Writer

Teaching Wildlife Conservation

At AIWC, we believe education programs that emphasize the importance of environmental protection may be the most important investment we can offer Alberta’s youth. If you’ve seen our Banding Together campaign video, you’ve seen how fostering a connection between children and wildlife can foster a live-long appreciation and advocacy for wild animals.

To support this understanding, AIWC is dedicated to teaching kids about wildlife conservation and offers a range of Wildlife Education Programs. These programs cover topics such as animals of Alberta, wetlands, animal adaptations, wildlife migration patterns, and several species-specific presentations.

Like AIWC, many other organizations, including the Child and Nature Alliance of Canada, the Ann and Sandy Cross Conservation Area, and the Canadian Wildlife Federation, understand that knowledge is power. Educating youth on the importance of nature and wildlife grows a sense of connection which may inspire more time spent outdoors engaging with the environment and those animals we share it with.

In turn, this engagement is expected to foster a respect for natural surroundings and grow a generation dedicated to ensuring the environment is protected for decades to come. Not to mention, the added side effect of improved health and well being from being active outdoors!

If you would like to book an education event, and support the leaders of tomorrow, simply complete a Wildlife Education Program Request.

By: S. Ruddock, Volunteer Writer

Wildlife and Litter Don’t Mix

Litter is everywhere humans are – road sides, parks, lakes, forests, school grounds and parking lots. It’s even in our own back yards!

Not only is litter bad for our environment, but it drastically impacts wildlife and other animals. Animals have an amazing sense of sight and smell, which can draw them to litter when in search of food.  They have no way of knowing that our waste is dangerous for them.

Litter is hazardous to wildlife and other animals because they can:

  • get their heads stuck in jars, cups or other kinds of containers that smell of food, causing them to suffocate or starve to death when they are unable to get the container off of their heads.
  • cut themselves on cans and broken glass – injuries that could be fatal or lead to infection.
  • get their heads or another parts of their body stuck in plastic six-pack rings, making it difficult for them to move or fly.
  • eat household waste and cleaners from garbage bins that could be toxic, causing extreme illness or death.
  • eat plastic or latex (e.g., balloons) that they mistake for food, which can make them sick or block their digestive tract and cause them to starve.
  • get caught inside plastic bags, causing them to suffocate.
  • get tangled in string, ropes, or netting, rendering them unable to free themselves.

At AIWC, two of the most common causes of wildlife injuries we treat are directly related to litter: (1) animal/vehicle collisions, and (2) fishing line entanglement or ingestion.

Roadside litter is both very dangerous and very attractive to wildlife. Birds, for example, may swoop down to grab an apple core or a candy wrapper someone tossed out the window, putting them at risk of being hit by traffic.

Waterfowl or other animals that live by lakes and rivers can ingest or become entangled in fishing line that was left behind, causing them to become ill or unable to swim, fly, or eat.

Remember: throwing out even the tiniest piece of gum can be dangerous for an animal – it can stick to their wings or fur making mobility difficult or impossible.

Here are ways you can help to keep wildlife and other animals safe from litter:

  • Never litter!
  • Pick up litter you come across and dispose of it properly.
  • Make sure on your garbage and recycle containers have secure, properly-fitting lids.
  • Make sure to wash out your cans, bottles and other recyclables thoroughly before disposing of them. This will help to remove some of the scent caused from food residue.
  • Crush pop cans once you’ve rinsed them and, as an extra precaution, turn the tab on the pop can so that it goes across the hole. This will prevent small animals like mice from crawling in.
  • Put lids back on plastic containers and jars once they are rinsed and ready to be recycled.
  • Cut up plastic six pack rings before recycling them.
  • Tie a knot in the middle of any plastic bags you are recycling.
  • Take any leftover household cleaning products and other toxic chemicals to the Eco Station.
  • Refrain from releasing balloons at events, which can cause deadly wildlife entanglement or ingestion.
  • Share this information with others.

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.

Photo credit: AIWC Volunteer, B. Chalmers. 

AIWC Centre Upkeep

Maintaining the AIWC centre requires a lot of volunteer commitment from a wide range of individuals with varying interests and skills. Each day volunteers work to clean indoor enclosures, ensuring the animals in our care have safe, comfortable, and sanitary environments in which to recover. This also results in numerous loads of laundry every day, meaning AIWC has to repair or replace washing machines and dryers much more frequently than an average household might.

Additional upkeep requires general maintenance like changing lightbulbs and fixing drains, but more significant construction work is ongoing to make sure, not only those animals staying temporarily, but also our resident education ambassadors, Griffin the red tailed hawk and Gulliver the striped skunk, remain safe and secure while at the centre.

Ongoing restoration of outdoor enclosures is necessary to keep recovering animals in and other animals out, while also creating a visual barrier to humans to prevent habituation that may inhibit wildlife release of our patients. You may also remember the severe hailstorms that hit in August 2014 that also caused significant damage to outdoor enclosures, requiring several emergency repair jobs by our volunteer construction team.

Artificial outside ponds must to be filled, emptied, and sanitized throughout the busy summer season. Specialized structures like the runway demand regular upkeep to maintain a safe space that helps recovering birds such as owls practice and regain flight.

AIWC volunteers have completed PVC framing work around large indoor tubs that provide temporary habitat for water-dwelling mammals like beavers and muskrats. Other finishing work has also been done at the centre in recent years (including getting a new sink this winter for the endless dishes we need to do!), and we have plans to upgrade existing structures and build new, necessary spaces to meet our constantly growing patient intake numbers.

AIWC could not provide this level of support to Alberta’s animals without the wide range of rehabilitative facilities available onsite, but this requires significant volunteer and in-kind support. If you would like to help AIWC with its wildlife recovery activities, please consider volunteering at AIWC or contributing to our wildlife baby shower wish list.

By: S. Ruddock, Volunteer Writer

Lessons in Wildlife from a Rough-Legged Hawk

Rough-legged hawks (Buteo lagopus), or, affectionately, roughies, are a common raptor species in Alberta. They migrate each winter from their nesting grounds in the Arctic, passing through Alberta on their journey south to the United States. If the winter here is mild, a few may spend the whole season in Alberta.

The prairies and large, treeless areas are favourite hunting grounds of roughies. Here, they hunt small mammals like hares, mice, and ground squirrels. One characteristic that makes rough-legged hawks easily identifiable is how they hunt: they hover over their prey in one spot from above, rather than circling. Just like other raptors, this species is protected under the provincial Wildlife Act as non-game, meaning no one is allowed to hunt them.

This rough-legged hawk came to us this winter after a responsible member of the public found him in distress and brought him to a Calgary veterinary clinic, who cared for him until one of our volunteer rescue drivers was able to pick him up. He had visible problems using his left wing.

Upon examination, he was diagnosed with a broken clavicle, possible the result of blunt trauma, such as a vehicle collision. Further examination and x-rays revealed he also had pellets embedded inside him, evidence of having been (illegally) shot likely some months prior. It is entirely possible his previous injuries from being shot resulted in reduced mobility for this hawk, and increased likelihood of future harm.

The main concern for his recovery was the proper healing of his clavicle. As with people, if a broken bone is not aligned, it will have limited mobility after it is healed, and for a hawk dependent upon his ability to fly for every aspect of his survival, a broken bone can leave him unable to return to the wild.

Over the course of his care, the roughie’s health deteriorated and it was increasingly unlikely his injuries would heal enough for him to be able to fly, hunt, and migrate. The decision to humanely euthanize him became the only option; he would not be able to be returned to the wild as a self-sufficient bird. Unfortunately, this is a stark reality of wildlife rehabilitation: even the best care cannot heal some of our patients enough that they can be returned to the wild where they belong.

Remember: if you find a hawk or any other wild animal in need of help, we are open every day. Call our Wildlife Hotline at 403-946-2361 right away for help and advice.

Additionally, if you witness any acts of cruelty against wildlife, be sure to report it to the authorities right away – even the smallest squirrel and noisiest magpie each deserve our compassion and play an important role in our natural ecosystems.

By: T. Collins, Volunteer Writer

The babies are coming!

Did you know that few areas in the world have more diverse wildlife than Alberta? Our province is home to 587 wildlife species, including 411 bird species, 93 mammal species, 65 fish species, and 10 species of amphibians.

Since our founding in 1993, we have admitted over 250 different wildlife species and spring and summer are our peak seasons for animal intakes. On any given day during this time we can have 200-300 animals in care and admitting up to 30 new patients each day.

The majority of animals in our care in spring and summer are babies that have been orphaned or injured. Some are also “kidnapped”, which means they have been taken by well intentioned members of the public but did not need rescuing. This is common for animals such as: hares, squirrels, fawns, goslings, ducklings, and nestling and fledgling birds. We make every effort to reunite these babies with their parents but unfortunately it is not always possible.

In 2015, AIWC provided care for over 1000 baby wildlife animals! Starting May 1st, 2016 we are asking for your help to raise $12,000 to support our costs during our peak seasons of spring and summer.

Every little bit helps! It can range from $100 to over $1000 to rehabilitate an individual animals and all funds go towards ensuring AIWC can continue to serve the needs of Alberta’s diverse wildlife.

To wrap up our 2nd annual baby shower event, we will be hosting an on-site talk on Sunday, May 29th, from 1pm until 4pm at our facility. More information can be found on our upcoming events page.

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.

Are robins back, or did they ever leave?

Although the majority of robins have migrated back to Alberta from as far south as southern Mexico and Guatemala, some robins actually choose to overwinter in Alberta and the rest of Canada.  That’s because robins base their decision to migrate on whether or not there is enough food to sustain them over the winter, and not as much about the weather – no matter how harsh our winters can be.

In the spring and summer when the ground thaws, robins eat earthworms and insects.  In the fall they switch to eating berries from trees like mountain ash or chokecherries. If they choose to overwinter in Alberta they spend time travelling from place to place in search of more berries.

Male and female robins look very similar, with the main difference being that female robins are a lighter coloring than males. Females have a lighter grey head and a lighter red-orange breast.

Females are the nest builders which takes them anywhere from two to six days, and an average of about one hundred and eighty trips a day of bringing grass and mud to their nesting site to do so.

baby robins colleen 07Robins may lay two to three clutches—or sets of eggs—a year, starting in late April or early May. Both females and males feed and care for three to four nestlings once they hatch, and provide each one with thirty to forty 40 meals each a day.

Nestlings fledge their nest at approximately thirteen days old, where they are vulnerable to predators like blue jays, magpies and other birds, as well as squirrels, cats and dogs until they can fly.

Another thing that is fatal to robins (and all birds) once they are able to fly, is windows.  Two reasons robins fly into windows are:

  • they do not realize the glass is there and just see the reflection of a tree or branch they think they can land on,
  • they are being territorial and think that their reflection is another robin coming toward them.

In most cases, robins don’t sing until they have arrived on their breeding territory – it’s their way of saying “I’m home”.  So give them something to sing about by doing your part to keep them safe:

  • Keep your cats or dogs inside or closely monitored during nesting season (especially if you know there is a nest nearby).
  • Place decals, stickers, sun catchers, transparent film, netting or outdoor shutters on the outside of windows.  If building a new house or replacing windows, consider screens on the outside of the window as an option.

Do you have robins nesting in your garden already?

Some of the information gathered for this blog came from:
Canadian Wildlife Federation at…/american-robin.html
Journey North at

Increased number of animals being admitted to AIWC

With the warmer weather so far this year, we have seen increasing patient numbers at AIWC. In addition, we have admitted wildlife babies earlier than normal with our first great horned owl (GHOW) nestling admitted in 2016 on March 16th. In 2015, our first GHOW baby wasn’t admitted until April 20th.

As of April 19th, 2016, we have admitted 157 patients to our centre. In 2014, 84 animals had been admitted by this date and in 2015, 74 animals had been admitted.

Our busiest times of year are from May till August and on any given day during these months we can expect to have 200-300 animals in care. In 2015, we admitted 1675 animals!

The difference for us this year is that we are getting busier a lot earlier than normal. This impacts our planning for the summer, it can take months to prepare for our busy season, and our costs are increased as we are caring for more animals in what is typically our “quieter” time of the year.

Higher than average temperatures are what we attribute to be the main reason for our increased patient numbers. Animals that have migrated back to the province are able to mate and nest earlier than normal, and larger numbers of animals are also choosing to over-winter here instead of migrating.

How can you help? If you see injured or orphaned wildlife please call us at 403-946-2361. If you’d like to support an animal in our care, we have a variety of ways you can help, visit here for more info:

Pictured: Eurasian-collared dove currently in care. 
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