Archives > August 2016

The Ravishing Raptors of Southern Alberta



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




Fall Migration Detour…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wildlife…Our Shared Responsibility



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

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

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

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

Who’s in Your Backyard?

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

Wildlife Rescue

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

Birds of Prey

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

The World of Owls

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

Bat Basics

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


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


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

 Supremely Skunks

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

Wetlands Wildlife

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

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

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

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




Bark for the Bites

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

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

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



All-purpose cleaner

High efficiency laundry soap (unscented and phosphate free)

Toilet paper

Extra-large garbage bags

Fresh/frozen blueberries



Corn on the cob

Lean ground beef


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


Don’t Bat an Eye!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Information collected from Alberta Environment and Parks website:

By: N. Grossman, Volunteer Writer.