Archives > September 2016

Trumpeter Swans


Photo credit:  Parks Canada

You may have noticed big white birds in lakes and ponds recently who aren’t normally there. These birds are trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter swans breed in the summer time and spend their summers in northern Alberta, northern British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories among other smaller summer populations. It is believed that most breeding pairs of trumpeter swans breed for life. Both parents work together for two to four weeks to build a nest that can reach up to 3.4 meters in width and 2.7 meters in height!

Trumpeter swans will have one brood per season with four to six offspring. Offspring only stay in their nests for one day and are able to swim and eat upon leaving.  They can fly in 90 to 122 days.

When the season begins to change and weather becomes cooler, these swans begin to migrate to their winter range which is located on the northern Pacific coast. While migrating, they stop at bodies of water along the way to take breaks and eat, which is why we have been able to see them more frequently near the Calgary area recently.

Here are some more interesting facts you might not have known about trumpeter swans:

  •   A baby swan is called a “cygnet”, an adult male is called a “cob”, and an adult female is called a “pen”.
  •   They are very sensitive to human disturbance and will abandon nests and cygnets if they are disturbed.
  •   They are adapted to live on or near bodies of water, and feed mainly on aquatic vegetation.
  •   They are the heaviest flying bird in North America. Males can weigh up to 11.8 kilograms (heavier than a         Canada goose which can weigh up to 8.6 kilograms, and slightly heavier than a wild turkey which can weigh up to 10.9 kilograms!).
  •   Trumpeter swans are called trumpeter swans because their calls sound like trumpets.
  •   Similar species include tundra swans and mute swans, which are both smaller and lack the completely black bills that trumpeter swans have (tundra swans have a yellow spot at the base of the bill, and mute swans have an orange bill).
  •   These birds were nearly hunted to extinction—there were only 69 known individuals by 1935. Today, hunting of these birds is illegal. Intense conservation efforts have helped protect this species and more than 34,000 individuals were recorded in 2005.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC volunteer


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. Trumpeter swan. Available at:


Heading South


In Canada, we accept the end of summer when we seethe leaves changing colour, the days getting shorter, frost coating windshields over night and signs for pumpkin-flavoured lattes and treats in every shop window!

Most notably, and perhaps most distinct to the North, the sound of honking fills the air as “V” shaped formations of Canada geese begin their yearly trip south of the border.

Along with the beaver, loon and polar bear, Canada geese are a national staple. Whether we’re witnessing their seasonal arrivals and departures or getting honked at when walking past a nest, Canadians know and love their fellow feathered Canadians.

Canada geese munch on grasses, sedges, eel grass and skunk cabbage during the spring and summer, and those who stick around Southern Canada for the winter enjoy lots of berries and seeds.

In the spring, you might notice many geese in areas with expansive green space.

To keep an eye on any incoming predators, the long-necked birds set up nests in parks, golf courses, school campuses and lawns. Female Canada geese use reeds, grasses, lichens, mosses and other plant materials to create nests for off spring, and prefer to set up camp near grassy fields, grain fields or water.

Females select nest sites, build the nest and incubate the eggs (usually four to seven per goose.) The male goose guards the nest while the female incubates.

Oh did I mention? Canada geese mate for life! Cute right? At around two years old, geese lock it down with a partner for breeding and the pair raises young, eats and migrates together, usually for the rest of their lives!

According to, Canada geese have very low “divorce-rates” and tend to stick together unless one dies.

Once goslings can fly and the soil beneath their breeding grounds starts to freeze, Canadian geese hightail it outta there!

Come winter, some geese settle for the more temperate winter climates of British Columbia, Southern Ontario and Southern Alberta, but most will head into the U.S. or even Mexico. Flocks tend to return to the same migratory locations on their journey, stopping in to eat and rest before continuing on.

Migratory groups of Canada geese include families and solo flyers.  Stronger, more experienced geese fly closer to the front of the “V” formation.

Some scientists believe that the geese use the “V” to create a drafting effect, where the lead geese take the brunt of the air flow and the following geese benefit from air currents and can expend less energy. The “V” formation also coordinates the flock’s movements, allowing changes in pace or course to be communicated quickly amongst the birds.

According to Hinterland Who’s Who, some geese have been recorded travelling up to 1,000 kilometres a day!

Canada geese are pretty amazing! But don’t step on their territory—and if you do, get out of there quick! A Canada goose that feels threatened may do some head pumping, tongue raising, hissing, honking and feather vibrating, and might even try to take a nip at you.

So how do you know if a goose needs your help? And how do you help? A goose that sticks to the same location and doesn’t appear to fly might be injured. Your best bet for helping him or her is to call AIWC at (403) 946-2361.

AIWC is open 365 days a year. Starting this September until April, hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Check out AIWC’s Instagram account to see a Canada goose patient in recovery.

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

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer



Preparing for the Changing Seasons

Now that AIWC has reached the end of its busiest season and we start getting closer to fall, you may notice that wildlife behaviour is changing just like the leaves.  It may seem too soon to start thinking about the snowy weather, but birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have all begun preparing for winter.

Ungulates like mule deer, elk, moose and caribou will travel less and eat more in an effort to consume an increased amount of fat and protein.  This helps them gain weight to get through the short winter days and long winter nights when food becomes scarcer and temperatures drop.  Squirrels and native birds have similarly started to stock up, while many migratory birds have begun their treks to warmer climates further south – you may see several species as they travel through Alberta.  Snakes and bears will also be preparing their dens to hibernate over winter.

To help animals through the changing seasons consider postponing your yard work until spring.  Leaves, plant stalks, flower bulbs, and vegetable seeds from your garden provide great food and shelter to wildlife.  If you’re not inclined to use the fall to relax, build a brush pile away from the house as a winter habitat for small animals, and hang streamers or put up decals in windows to prevent bird strikes as collisions tend to increase in the migratory period.

This is the perfect time of year to observe Alberta’s wildlife, so make sure to get outdoors before you need your winter coat!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

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


A Small Gesture Can Make A Big Difference

At AIWC 95% of animals we treat 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 needless rescuing of babies who should have been left where they were.

Of course there are many other dangers to animals out there that aren’t necessarily as obvious as the ones we talk about most often, but are critical for humans to consider.  Among those dangers are hockey nets.  They tend to be utilized all year long, and are almost always found sitting on the driveway in any residential neighbourhood.

While hockey nets can provide hours of great physical fun for humans, they are fatal to baby hares more often than not.  That was the case for a baby hare that came to our hospital recently.   This little hare became entangled in the hockey net when trying to hop through, and the more he struggled the worse things became.  Sadly, he suffered from spinal trauma and didn’t survive.   Unfortunately, animals do not realise or recognise the dangers that are out there until it’s too late.

Situations such as this are completely preventable, if we all take that extra moment to consider what dangers could be lurking in our own back yard for unsuspecting wildlife.   Hockey nets can simply be moved into the garage or put into a fenced back yard after use.

This is something to keep in mind with hares having their last litter of the year right now.  Spread the word to your children, your neighbours and your community.  It’s a small gesture that can save a big life.

Every wild life matters.


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