Archives > February 2016

Bats in the News Across Canada

Bats are a frequent patient here at AIWC – we average about 30 each year, and we currently have five over-wintering with us, awaiting their releases in the spring when they’d naturally come out of hibernation and insect populations are plentiful. 

In eastern Canada, white-nose syndrome, a fungal infection, has been drastically reducing bat populations as the disease moves westerly across the country, from the maritimes and now into Ontario. The fungus lives in cold environments and affects bats where they hibernate. It is mainly spread from bat to bat, but humans can also contaminate caves if caving gear is not properly cleaned between locations.

There is currently no cure for white-nose syndrome, and it is estimated the fungus has killed 99% of little brown bats in Nova Scotia. However, some good news came out of PEI last week showing bat activity may be starting to rebound! 

Meanwhile, in Banff, Parks Canada researchers found a cave in the National Park in December that showed evidence of bats using the area to hibernate. This marks the first time researchers have found evidence of bats hibernating in the National Parks area, and provides the opportunity to better study and understand Alberta’s bat populations, as well as proactively plan for and prevent the spread of white-nose syndrome throughout the province. 

What can you do to help Alberta’s bats?

  • install bat boxes on your property
  • maintain their natural habitats (e.g., maintain trees, reduce outdoor lighting)
  • do not disturb hibernating bats if you come across them
  • if you’re a caver, make sure you thoroughly disinfect and decontaminate your gear between locations and excursions so you do not contribute to the spread of white-nose syndrome
  • if you find a grounded or injured bat, call our Wildlife Hotline for help: 403-946-2361

Montana Sage Grouse to Relocate to Alberta

The greater sage grouse is an endangered species found in south-eastern Alberta. In order to combat the declining species, the province of Alberta is working with Montana to bolster the local population.

There is an estimated fewer than 90 sage grouse left in Alberta, but this spring 40 will be transferred from Montana’s healthy population as part of a recovery plan.

Past relocations in 2010 and 2011 were met with some success and showed that sage grouse from Montana could successful resettle with the small Alberta population and result in nests and hatchlings.

Also, in order to combat habitat loss due to farming and oil and gas activity, the federal government issued the first ever protection order under the Species At Risk Act to restrict human activity on grassland in Alberta where sage grouse nest.

The sage grouse was first listed as endangered in 1998. They are the largest grouse species in North America and are known for their impressive mating displays.

What can you do?

Simply by reading this and sharing or talking about it with others helps to bring awareness to Alberta’s declining species. The sage grouse is no more or less important than any other animal who plays their role in a healthy ecosystem, and to lose the population in its entirety is a devastating prospect.

You can also support conservation efforts for local wildlife through volunteering or donating. 

Wildlife health is an important indicator of Alberta’s environment, and we all have a shared responsibility to support our wild neighbours. Each native species should be a source of pride for Albertans, and the sage grouse is no exception. 

After all, 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 Hannigin, author

Owl Encounters During Nesting Season

Last week, a great horned owl attack on a cross-country skier near Red Deer made quite a few headlines. Skiing at night with a head lamp, the owl went after the skier twice, leaving him with several puncture wounds.

What caused the owl to attack is uncertain, but it is likely that the skier startled the owl and was perceived to be a threat or an intruder, and the owl was protecting its nesting area. 

Great horned owls are residents of Alberta, meaning they do not migrate; a mating pair will reside in their territory all year. This means males may defend their territory, first with warning hisses and bill-clapping. If the owl’s initial warnings are not heeded, and an intruder persists, the owl will strike with its feet, grasping and raking its target with its talons.

Great horned owls are also one of the earliest breeding raptors in Alberta, giving them an advantage over migratory birds. Mating pairs are determined by January and nesting begins, with eggs generally laid in March.

In the case of the skier, it is likely he was identified as an intruder by a nesting owl protecting his territory and his mate, and the skier was unable to see or hear the owl’s warnings prior to be attacked.

To avoid incidents like these to the benefit of both us and our wild neighbours, here are a few things you can do:

  • Give them space: avoid known nesting sites while the owls are nesting and raising their young (January-April)
  • Look out for nest sites: great horned owls do not build their own nests – they use nests created by hawks or crows the previous summer
  • Watch (or listen) for warning signs: you are more likely to hear a nearby owl before you see them, so keep an ear out for hissing, bill-clapping, hooting, or shrieking
  • Don’t startle the owl: make noise, wear a bell, or talk to your companions so you aren’t perceived to be sneaking up on them
  • Scare the owl off: if you area has a problematic owl, it can be deterred by shouting, banging cans together, and other loud noises (note: the great horned owl, like all raptors, is protected under the Wildlife Act (Alberta), so use of lethal force is illegal)
  • Stick to daylight: great horned owls are active at night and dusk/dawn
  • Don’t feed/bait owls – a key to their survival is a sustained, healthy wariness of humans
  • Wear appropriate protective gear for your sport (e.g., helmet)
  • Keep your pets close and on leash while outside so they do not harass wildlife

Owl attacks on humans are incredibly rare, but territorial owls near nesting sites are not. Fortunately, there are many steps we can take to reduce these incidents and give our provincial bird the space it needs this time of year.

After all, most injured animals we see at AIWC are a result of human activities. If we’re aware of how our activities affect them, then we can take steps to create a strong co-existence between Albertans and our wild neighbours.

Cougar Sighting in Banff

Last week CBC reported a mountain bike trail closure in Banff National Park due to a cougar feeding on a carcass.

Cougar sightings are reported throughout Alberta, but they are most frequently sighted in the mountains and foothills, and a healthy cougar population is a positive sign of a healthy ecosystem. Cougar populations have been on the rise in recent years, meaning populations are expanding into areas they wouldn’t normally be.

Of course, Alberta Parks notes steps we can take to ensure cougars do not become habituated to human territories, including:

  • keep garbages secure;
  • secure outdoor areas for livestock and other animals;
  • do not let your pets outside unsupervised;
  • do not leave pet food outside and avoid feeding wildlife;
  • install motion-sensor lighting; and
  • ensure there are no accessible spaces under your house or deck.

An increase in cougar populations in Alberta is no reason to be worried, though.

Cougar attacks on humans or pets are rare and they are naturally wary of humans. Just spotting a cougar does not mean you are in immediate danger.

However, if you do happen to come across a cougar in the wild, there are some steps you can take, according to Alberta Parks:

  • avoid hiking alone;
  • keep all dogs on leash when in cougar territory;
  • gather all people in your group closely, especially pets and children;
  • keep your eye on the cougar, back away slowly and do not run;
  • avoid sudden movements;
  • carry bear spray when hiking in the wild and be prepared to use it;
  • if a cougar shows an interest in you, make yourself appear large, wave your arms, and shout;
  • never play dead; and
  • after the cougar has retreated, continue to look out for it as you immediately return to safety.

It is also very important to abide by any trail closures due to cougar activity, and violations of trail closures can carry steep fines.

Of course, cougars are very stealthy and naturally avoid humans, so it is very likely one may come across your path and you may never see it. And if everybody does their part, we can peacefully coexist with all of our wild neighbours without concern.

Do you have any stories of cougar encounters in the wild?

* Image of cougar kitten in care at AIWC in the early 2000s.