Archives > April 2017

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





The Great Horned Owl

Did you know that the Great Horned Owl is one of the most common owls in North America?

The Great Horned Owl is aptly named due to the tufts of feathers on the top of the head that appear to be horns or ears. In fact, the ears of this owl (and some other owls) are located on the side of the head and are asymmetric, meaning one is higher up than the other (Lewis 2016; Cornell University 2015). Ear asymmetry typically occurs with nocturnal owls because they rely on their hearing for hunting (Lewis 2016).

Another physiological adaptation that allows owls to hunt better at night is their unique disc-shaped face which helps funnel sound to their ears (IPT 2017; Lewis 2016; Cornell University 2015; FRGZEV 2006).

Although this species relies heavily on their hearing for hunting at night, the eyes of this predator are also adapted to be able to see in low light conditions which further aids their hunting abilities (IPT 2017; Cornell University 2015; FRGZEV 2006). The large size of the owl’s eyes allow them to absorb more light over the larger surface area (IPT 2017). They also contain a tapetum lucidum, which is an adaptation in many animals species that allows them to see better at night time and is the structure that causes eyes of some animals to “glow” at night when light is shined on them (IPT 2017).

The Great Horned Owl is one of the earlier nesting species in southern Alberta and often breed as early as late January or February. This species lays 2 to 3 eggs and both parents take turns incubating the eggs. The incubation period is 30 to 35 days, which means we can see hatchlings in our area as early as late February or early March. If one of the hatchlings falls out of the nest early, the parents will still care for him or her by feeding them on the ground (Cornell University 2015; FRGZEV 2006).

If you happen to see a young owl that has fallen out of it’s nest, make sure you observe to see if there are any parents nearby. If you think the nestling has been abandoned, please call AIWC for advice (403-946-2361).

AIWC currently has a Great Horned Owl patient who fell victim to a methane flare. This owl will remain with AIWC until she completes a full feather molt and can once again fly. If you would like to help with the care of this owl, please visit our Adopt an Animal page (

Interesting Great Horned Owl facts:

  • The Long-eared owl is another species in Alberta who also has feather tufts that are often confused as horns or ears. Though, this species is much smaller than the Great Horned Owl.
  • They use nests that were built by a different species (such as hawks, crows, ravens, herons, and even squirrels) (Cornell University 2015).
  • The Great Horned Owl can weigh between .90 to just over 2.3 kilograms, with the female being larger than the male (Cornell University 2015; FRGZEV 2006).
  • The Great Horned Owl can catch prey much larger than themselves and often preys upon ospreys, falcons and other owls. However, they mostly eat small mammals and birds (Cornell University 2015).
  • The talons of this species are incredibly sharp, and hold on tightly to their prey. When clenched, the talons require a force of 13 kilograms to open them (Cornell University 2017).
  • The Great Horned Owl uses their ear tufts to display how they are feeling. They stand upright when curious and lie flat when disgruntled (FRGZEV 2006).
  • These owls are very stealthy. Their feathers offer camouflaging to the surrounding treed habitat and they are nearly silent when in flight (FRGZEV 2006).
  • Many people believe that owls can turn their heads all the way around, when in fact, they can turn them 270 degrees. They are able to do this because of extra vertebra in their neck (FRGZEV 2006).
  • Owl eyes don’t move in their sockets (Cornell University 2015).
  • The call of the Great Horned Owl is one of the more recognizable owl calls and is a series of deep, stuttering hoots – usually 4 or 5 in a row (Cornell University 2015). To hear their call, visit this site:
  • Great Horned Owls stay all year long in Alberta and also live in South America (Cornell University 2015; FRGZEV 2006).
  • (Cornell University 2015).
  • The Great Horned Owl is a predator of crows and crows often attack, mob, and chase owls in the day time (Cornell University 2015).

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer


Lewis, Deane. 2016. Owl Ears & Hearing. The Owl Pages. Available at:

Cornell University. 2015. Great Horned Owl. Available at:

Friends of the Rosamond Gifford Zoo Education Volunteers (FRGZEV). 2006. Great Horned Owl. Available at:

Idaho Public Television (IPT). 2017. Owls: Facts. Available at:


National Wildlife Week

In 2017 Canada celebrates 150 years of confederation and 70 years of recognizing National Wildlife Week. Each year National Wildlife Week falls around April 10th, the birthday of ‘Wild Goose Jack,’ who helped restore the Canada goose population after it was on the brink of extinction in the early 1900s.

While the Canada goose seems emblematic of the country and the year-long celebrations, did you know they are not Canada’s National bird? In fact, Canada does not currently recognize a national bird. In 2015 Canadian Geographic undertook a survey to recommend a species be recognized in honour of Canada’s sesquicentennial and narrowed the list to the following five candidates:

  1. Gray Jay / Whiskey Jack
  2. Common Loon
  3. Snowy Owl
  4. Canada Goose
  5. Black-Capped Chickadee

Although not yet official, Canadian Geographic is lobbying Parliament to have the Gray Jay recognized as the national bird as part of the #Canada150 celebrations in a similar proclamation to the one that identified National Wildlife Week.

The recommendation certainly ruffled a few feathers with some believing that the common loon—who appears on our one dollar coins—would be more iconic, while others felt the Canada goose was the obvious choice. In any case, it’s not worth getting in a flap over because they were all valid candidates along with many others.

The Whiskey Jack was put forward as the final choice for epitomizing Canadian spirit as a friendly, intelligent, and winter-hardy specimen.

National Wildlife Week and Canada’s 150th anniversary reminds us to commemorate all the creatures and contributions that support this country’s diverse ecosystems. Picking up a piece of litter, using window decals to prevent bird strikes, enjoying a spring day outdoors and snapping a photo of wild spaces all contribute to protecting natural habitats and remembering our enduring Canadian spirit.

You can further support our wild neighbours by contributing your time to AIWC or by donating to the care of animals. Your contributions help ensure that should a gray jay, loon, snowy owl, Canada goose, black-capped chickadee, beaver or any other Canadian wildlife find their way into AIWC’s care we can support their recovery and release them back into the northern wilderness.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer



Mysterious, Mischievous Minks

At the end of March, AIWC welcomed an unexpected visitor. For the first time in about ten years, a mink made an appearance. This new patient was found near Brooks with a swollen eye and has been admitted as a patient.

So what’s the deal with minks in Alberta? What is a mink anyway?! Let me tell you!

The American mink (Latin name: Mustela Vison) weighs about 1 kilogram full grown. These little critters have long, thin bodies ranging from 65 to 75 cm long. They have small, rounded ears, pointed snouts with whiskers, brown-ish coats and sometimes have white spots on their chins and chest.

In Alberta you can find minks in the boreal, foothill and Rocky Mountain natural regions.

These little weasels are semi-aquatic which means they love to spend time near the water. In fact, you’re not very likely to find a mink unless you’re close to a watercourse.

Minks have semi-webbed feet and non-retractable claws that help them climb trees. They’re great swimmers– according to Live Science they can swim up to 30 m under water!  These little creatures were made for waterside living. Their coats are coated in oil to help repel H2O.

These nocturnal hunters are most active during dawn and dusk hours when they go out looking for ducks, fish, small birds, rodents and even muskrats! Crayfish, frogs, snakes, mice, moles and chipmunks also make excellent snacks for a hungry mink.

Minks tend to live alone but come together to breed. They mate in March with mini-minks born in May in litters of six to eight. Kits become independent from mama mink at six to ten months.

Minks need to look out for coyotes, bobcats, and large owls; predators that enjoy having weasels for dinner.

AIWC’s mink patient is having his eye treated and seems to be getting feistier every day! While it’s exciting to have a feisty little mink patient at AIWC, it looks like he will be on his way back to the wild soon.

Minks are just another example of the beautiful, diverse wildlife that call our province home.

There are many ways to support AIWC in its wildlife rescue and conservation efforts. You can:


  1. “Adopt” an animal
  2. Invite our education team to your classroom
  3. Become a friend of AIWC
  4. Make a one-time monthly donation via CanadaHelps
  5. Help us build new enclosures and rehabilitation spaces. Contact us for a donor package
  6. Donate to the AIWC Forever Home Campaign
  7. Volunteer!
  8. Give from our wish list
  9. Leave a legacy or planned gift. Contact us for more information
  10. Attend an AIWC event
  11. Bring home your own copy of AIWC’s first children’s book: Scared Skunk

By Nina Grossman, AWIC Volunteer