Archives > October 2017

The Sneaky Neighbour You’ve Never Met!

As today is Halloween, it seems appropriate to profile an animal that is typically associated with all things sneaky and dark: the raccoon!

Many southern Alberta residents may never have seen a raccoon, as these creatures are nocturnal, so are not often spotted during the day. It is a commonly held belief that raccoons cannot be found in the Calgary area; however, they actually have been living in and around Calgary for approximately 25 years (CBC News).

Raccoons are famous for their black “masked” face and striped tail, and measure approximately 60-95 centimetres from nose to tail, and weight six to eight kilograms, with females being approximately 25% smaller than males (Wild Safe BC).

These masked creatures are omnivores and will eat just about anything they can get their hands on. They do, however, have preference for nuts, insects and berries. A raccoon in the wild has a relatively short life span. While a raccoon in captivity may live in excess of 15 years, a wild raccoon has an average life expectancy of three to five years, due to high mortality rate amongst their young (Wild Safe BC).

Raccoons in many parts of Canada have a “winter denning period”, or a period of inactivity that enables them to survive the harsh Canadian winter, when food is scarce. Do not be alarmed if you see a raccoon roaming around during the winter though! These clever creatures are adept at finding food sources and may not have a winter denning period in urban centres or warmer regions, where food is regularly available (Wild Safe BC).

While racoons are typically shy creatures, it’s not uncommon for them to become comfortable around humans or pets. These masked bandits are experts at stealing food from our garbage cans, and can quickly learn to associate humans with good food sources. As they become more habituated to humans, conflicts can occur. You can help discourage raccoons from moving into urban areas by ensuring your garbage cans are closed and secured, harvesting fruit trees and berry bushes as soon as the fruit is ripe, and by leaving pet food inside your home where raccoons cannot access it. If you are having problems with raccoons frequenting your property, installing motion-activated lights may be a sufficient deterrent (Wild Safe BC).

If you are fortunate enough to see a raccoon in the wild, keep your distance. Though they look cute and cuddly, like all wild animals, they become aggressive if they feel threatened, and can inflict serious harm.

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

CBC News. “Raccoons spotted in and around Calgary”. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2017.

Wild Safe BC. “Raccoon”. Available at: Accessed October 29, 2017.

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

The American Crow

As Halloween approaches, it’s a perfect time to talk about one of our favorite creatures that is typically associated with all thing spooky – the crow! Crows are a part of the corvid family and are a very intelligent bird. They don’t have the best reputation, and are often thought of as a nuisance – perhaps a little too often. I’m hoping that after reading this blog we will have enlightened some of you who may be on the not-so-fond side of the crow.

Crows can be found globally, and the species here in Alberta is the American crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos). These birds are opportunists and will eat almost anything they find in the wild (or in their urban jungle) including insects, worms, carrion (carcasses), seeds, nuts, grains, and eggs or chicks of other bird species’ (Cornell University 2015).

Crows prefer to nest in the top third of an evergreen tree. Both parents of a pair (and sometimes their young from a previous year) will build their nest out of sticks and branches, pine needles, weeds, bark and even animal hair (Cornell University 2015).

Crows are extremely social birds and are rarely seen alone. Crow families consist of parents and their offspring from the past two years, the offspring will help raise new young before starting their own families (Cornell University 2015).

If you live in the northwest of Calgary, you might have seen a large group (100+) of crows that gathers in the fall and winter. This could be due to the interesting fact that crows will often congregate in large numbers (sometimes up to TWO MILLION!) in winter to sleep in communal roosts (Cornell University 2015). Some of these roosts have been established for 100 years or more, and will stay in an area even after it has become urbanized (Cornell University 2015).

Now is the time of year that crow fledglings (and other types of birds) start leaving their nests! AIWC is here to inform you that the crow hopping around on the ground may just be newly out of his or her nest! Crow fledglings are very large and look like they could be adults. Don’t be immediately alarmed if you spot one if these birds as just described, but take a minute or two and observe the bird’s behavior. If the behavior seems abnormal at all (lethargic, injured, or other), PLEASE don’t hesitate to call us (403-946-2361) to help! Always remember, it is unlawful to keep any wildlife without a proper license and training to do so.

Other interesting facts:

–          The American crow is closely related to the black-billed magpie (Pica hudsonia) and both species are in the same family (Corvidae).

–          Both crows and magpies are known to create and use tools (e.g., putting water on dry food, dropping pine cones on predators near their nests) (Cornell University 2015). Tool usage in the animal kingdom is a sign of intelligence, and not all animals have the ability to use tools.

–          Mobbing is a behavior that crows demonstrate where groups of crows will work together to chase away a predator. Some owls are predators of crows and will eat their eggs or young if they have the chance, and as a result, crows can often be seen mobbing an owl.

–          Crows can learn how to speak (another sign of intelligence)! Peg Leg, a crow and wildlife ambassador of the Helen Schuler Nature Centre in Lethbridge lived to be 23 years old (Ho 2015) and often greeted visitors with a friendly ‘hello’!

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer


Cornell University. 2015. American Crow. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2017.

Ho, Clara. 2015. Peg Leg, talking crow at Lethbridge’s nature centre, dies at 23. Calgary Herald. Available at: Accessed June 13, 2017.

Six Things to Know about Red Squirrels!

With fall officially here to stay (for the time being), you’ll no doubt spot a variety of animals scurrying about as they make their winter preparations. One such critter you’ll likely spy this season is the beautiful, yet feisty red squirrel (Tamiasciurus hudsonicus). A native to Alberta, this industrious rodent can be easily identified by its signature reddish coat that thickens considerably as cooler weather approaches. But did you know that the red squirrel is closely related to chipmunks? Or that a litter of red squirrels usually clocks in at four or five babies?

In case you can’t get enough of these lovable yet territorial rodents, here are six facts you may not know about red squirrels:

  1. Though their name hints at a totally red coat, red squirrels aren’t actually fully red in colour. The coats on their backs can range from a grey-brown to a shock of rusty red, while their throats, bellies, and rings around their eyes provide a contrast of stark white.
  2. Red squirrels don’t hibernate during the winter – in fact, they stay active throughout the season. If you spot a red squirrel hurrying about during the fall, it’s likely because he’s on a mission to prepare for the upcoming cold months by collecting and storing food for future consumption.
  3. While we all imagine squirrels munching merrily on nuts or acorns, the red squirrel’s diet is much more varied than those singular items. True, their main source of nutrition comes from some nuts and the seeds from pine cones. But, by definition, red squirrels are omnivores, and their diets extend to include flowers, berries, mushrooms, bugs, mice, eggs, and small birds.
  4. Red squirrels have a firm grasp on food storage. Using tree cavities, underbrush piles, or dens as their own pantries, red squirrels can ensure that the food they’ve gathered for the winter will be kept safely and out of the way of trespassers. Before storing mushrooms that they’ve foraged, red squirrels have been known to lay them out to dry on tree branches.
  5. Red squirrels are feisty and territorial towards intruders, and confrontation between two red squirrels often entails a lot of tail flicking, chattering, and foot stomping. Though these actions may seem adorable to us as onlookers, it can mean that things are getting heated in a squirrel argument.
  6. There’s a reason why a red squirrel’s tail is so big and bushy: when it’s not being flicked around to intimidate a rival, the tail of a red squirrel is primarily used for balance as the animal jumps from tree to tree in wooded areas. With a tail that measures to be about half the size of an average red squirrel (six and 12 inches, respectively), half of the animal’s body’s length is devoted to helping it keep balance and intimidating other squirrels.

If you happen to see a red squirrel – or any injured wild animal, for that matter – that’s injured or abandoned, please contact AIWC at 403-946-2361 for assistance.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer



Women and Wildlife

October is Women’s History Month in Canada, “a time for Canadians to celebrate the achievements of women and girls throughout our history and recognize the trailblazing women who have shaped our country and way of life.” Among those women are a number of biologists, ecologists, and conservationists including AIWC founder Dianne Wittner.

Dianne completed a degree in biology at the University of Calgary and began working as a wildlife rehabilitator in British Columbia. Later she returned to Alberta where she opened the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation in her basement. Dianne received the Western Legacy Award in 2012 for her work which recognizes Albertans that “promote western values and aim to preserve western heritage, pride and integrity within their community” (Leaving a lasting western legacy). Dianne’s contributions to conservation activities consistently exemplified these characteristics.

AIWC is now located next door to her former residence and continues to admit thousands of wild lives every year. The centre is currently managed by a talented team of committed women with complementary skills and expertise that contribute to public engagement, classroom education, volunteer coordination, and animal welfare all while supporting the centre’s primary focus of rehabilitating and releasing injured or orphaned wildlife. You can read more about these capable women who inspire us daily on AIWC’s Staff page.

You too can contribute to the centre’s activities by volunteering your time, donating goods from our Wish List or sponsoring a patient. Further opportunities for assisting AIWC’s efforts are also available under the Support Us tab of our website.

“Today, women, girls, men, and boys continue the quest for equality and inclusion in all areas of Canadian life.” Let us know how you will celebrate this year’s Women’s History Month and heroines of conservation in the comments!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Wood Bison

What are Wood Bison?

Albertan wood bison (Bison bison athabascae) are a subspecies of the American bison, distinguished by their larger size, darker and woollier fur, and less hair on the forelegs and beards (Bork et al 1991).

The boreal forest, specifically wetland-meadows and open savannah-like shrubland are the most important habitat types, but this can vary from season to season (AEP profile).

Where are Wood Bison found?

Historically, wood bison in Canada were found across the boreal forests of North America, including Alberta and the Northwest territories. In Alberta, they are found in the upper Northeast, primarily in the Wood Bison National Park and surrounding areas. Estimates taken between 2010 and 2015 showed ~9000 free-ranging wood bison left in Canada (Wood Bison recovery strategy 2016).

A carefully managed herd of wood bison reside in the area surrounding the Hay-Zama lake region, and they are kept separate from the free-roaming bison found in the northwest and national park (Alberta Wilderness Association)

What is being done to protect the Wood Bison?

Wood bison are currently listed as “At Risk” by the General Status of Alberta Wild Species report, but the protected herd of the Hay-Zama area are listed as endangered under the Wildlife Act. Wood bison that are free-roaming and found in the northwest Alberta protected area are illegal to hunt without a license. However, a proportion of free-roaming bison found in and around the national park carry strains of tuberculosis and brucellosis, which are introduced livestock diseases. Because of this, they receive no hunting protection, to prevent the spread of these diseases to the Hay-Zama population and domestic bison (AEP profile).

What more needs to be done, and how can we help?

The main threats to the protected wood bison populations are the spread of livestock diseases, with the more general threats of increases in agrarian land, climate change and increased predation close behind.

The Recovery Strategy for Wood Bison in Canada (2016) outlines both short-term and long-term objectives for the protection and recovery of both the free-roaming and managed herds. Short-term management of the disease-free populations in the original Canadian range, establish self-sustaining populations and increase genetic diversity. The long-term objective is “to ensure the existence of at least five disease-free, genetically diverse, connected, self-sustaining free range local populations distributed across the natural range, with at least 1000 individuals per population” (Recovery Strategy 2016).

In terms of what the public can do, it is important that we focus on greater consultation with landowners (as many are opposed to the somewhat destructive nature of grazing herds) and increased awareness of where wood bison are protected and how our activities may impact them.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer


Bork, A. M.; et al. (1991). Genetic Relationship of Wood and Plains Bison Based on Restriction Fragment Length Polymorphisms. Canadian Journal of Zoology 69: 43-48

Environment and Climate Change Canada. 2016. Recovery Strategy for the Wood Bison in Canada [Proposed]. Species at Risk Act. Recovery Strategy Series. Environment and Climate Change Canada. Ottawa. Viii + 52pp

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks