Archives > November 2017

Litter and Wildlife

As we work through our candy left over from last month, we all know that post-Halloween is a time that’s notorious for stomach-aches and sugar highs caused by excess candy. Even scarier than these nutritional nightmares, though, is the havoc that candy wrappers and other forms of litter can wreak on Alberta’s wildlife.

While litter may seem harmless, it can have myriad unfortunate effects on the animals (and plants) that we share this world with. Here are just a few ways that litter affects Alberta’s wildlife:

  1. Small bits of plastic-based litter can often look appealing to foraging birds, but can prove dangerous and even fatal to them if ingested. Instead of being digested and processed as food, these bits of plastic often remain in a bird’s digestive tract and block food from being processed later on, which inevitably leads to starvation. This means that a harmless-seeming Ring Pop base or other small and disposable piece of plastic can transform into a lethal weapon as far as local avian life is concerned.
  2. Discarded chewing gum can become problematic when an animal gets chewed gum stuck in its fur or feathers. Depending on the size of the animal, the effects of this sticky situation can range from annoying to crippling if the gum inhibits the animal’s range of motion. If you’re chewing on that Hubba Bubba gum you scored on Halloween and need to spit it out during a fall nature walk, make sure to do so properly – by wrapping it in paper and disposing of it into the proper receptacle – to save an animal a whole lot of grief.
  3. Too much of a good thing is bad, and that goes double for too much of a bad thing – especially when on the topic of litter. If an area is heavily littered, the long-term consequences can include a loss of habitat for animals on the ground that would normally have nested there, as well as polluted waterways if the litter reaches a local water source. With the depletion of available resources in a particular area, animals may have to migrate from heavily-polluted areas to an area that may be less-than-ideal or overcrowded, meaning they may not have access to enough resources to survive.

While litter is certainly an all-year problem, we implore you to keep an eye out for a potential increase in Halloween-related detritus and to clean up what you can to help our furry and feathered friends to stay safe. And if you see an animal in distress, please contact AIWC at 403-946-2361 for assistance.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer


Walkthrough: A Shift at AIWC

Today’s blog is going to walk you through a typical shift at AIWC as a rehabilitation assistant volunteer. Keep in mind, we are currently in the slow season and have fewer patients in our care than we have during the spring or summer, so this blog will cover a very basic shift.

At the beginning of any shift as a rehabilitation assistant at the centre, volunteers check in and talk with the staff in charge for the day. We are incredibly fortunate to have an amazing team of staff members at AIWC who not only care for the animals, but do everything they can to help educate the team of volunteers. The staff are incredibly thankful of the volunteers and donors who help keep AIWC a well-greased machine, but I truly believe we wouldn’t be a functioning clinic without our staff and their commitment to patients and coaching to volunteers.

The staff will have specific duties assigned to the volunteers for their shifts, and will do a run-down of everything with them in case there are any special or out-of-the-ordinary patients or tasks for the day. I never know what animals will be in care at the centre or which ones I will be assigned to until I arrive on the day of my shift. There are some restrictions when it comes to certain animals, for example, rabies vector species can only be looked after by staff members, and volunteers who have been rabies vaccinated; and some patients may be quarantined due to contagious conditions and only certain staff members can care for them. 

Above is a photo of one of the patient boards. It tells us where the patients are located, their food and medicine requirements, which staff or volunteers are assigned to them, and anything else that might be important.

Once we know what our tasks are for the day and which patients we will be helping, the first thing that needs to be done is to feed the patients. We prep food according to our nutrition manual. Each type of species has a specific diet plan, and we follow the nutrition manual to ensure they are being fed the right amount of food, and the right type of food. For some patients who may have to stay at AIWC for a longer period of time (e.g., over winter, or until a full feather moult occurs), it might be necessary to create a tailored feeding schedule so we don’t feed them the same thing every day. This is to provide a form of enrichment and prevent boredom while in our care.

  Nutrition manual (left) and part of the food prepared for a cedar waxwing (right).

For my shift these photos are from, I was assigned with helping one of the staff members with various raptors we have in care.

 Osprey being release back into enclosure after a full clean (left), and the same osprey eyeing up her meal (right).

For the patients that are self-feeding (the ones who eat on their own), we temporarily take them out of their enclosures so we can do a full clean before we feed them. A full clean involves removing any uneaten food, removing soiled materials or fabrics and perches, and wiping down or mopping the enclosure. We replace soiled materials or fabrics and perches with clean ones, place the food we have prepped for them in the enclosure, and then release the patient back into their temporary home.

 Saw whet owl in enclosure (left), enclosure after a full clean for the saw whet owl (right). This patient was having issues being able to see and was bumping their eyes into the hard walls. We fashioned some softer materials to act as bumpers and hopefully reduce the impact for any further bumps. This little owl is receiving treatment for their eyes and although slow, seems to be recovering. Fingers crossed for this little one!

Sometimes patients need to be tweezer fed if they aren’t self feeding or eating by themselves (this could be due to a variety of reasons). The great horned owl below is an example of using a towel to wrap the patient to be safely fed.

 Great horned owl wrapped in towel for tweezer feeding.

Special handling procedures are always required to ensure the safety of both the patient, and the staff or volunteer who handles them. For some examples, using a towel to wrap bird patients holds their wings close to their body to reduce the risk of a wing injury; towels also provide a barrier between the patient and volunteer or staff to mitigate biting; leather gloves and a proper grip of talons are used to hold birds of prey to ensure they won’t be able to grip anything or anyone while they are being held (for feeding or examinations).

Once patients are cleaned and fed, there is lots of cleaning that needs to be done. We generally try to keep tidy and clean as we go if we are able to, but there seems to be a never-ending pile of laundry, bottomless kitchen sink of dirty dishes, sweeping, mopping, snow shovelling…the list goes on!


Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment below or contact us with any questions you might have. As always, we are a non-profit organization who relies on you, our followers and supporters, to help us care for wildlife in need. If you would like to make a donation, please visit our Support Us page to see how you can help!

By Tayler Lafreniere, AIWC Volunteer

Meet the Northern Flicker!

Despite being classified as a woodpecker, don’t be surprised if you startle a northern flicker up from the ground on your next hike! These striking auburn birds use their specialized beaks to dig up dirt and a 2-inch long tongue, which wraps around the flicker’s skull when retracted, to extract insects and larvae. These birds will also eat fruit and seeds, especially over winter when ants in particular become harder to find. In the spring, northern flickers can be heard drumming on tin flues, siding, gutters, and other materials to attract mates.

Both males and females help to excavate dead or diseased trees for nests, which will be lined with little more than a thin layer of woodchips for a clutch of 5-8 eggs. Northern flickers are quite happy in nest boxes and in reusing tree cavities created by other animals. Nestlings will tend to cling to the wall of their nest between the second to third week after hatching.

These hardy birds are brown in colour with dark spots and a black collar. The nape of their neck is highlighted with a deep red crescent. In flight, bright feathers on the underside of the northern flicker can be seen. These feathers are orange in the red-shafted flicker subspecies of western North America and yellow in the yellow-shafted flicker that dominate further east and north.


Northern flickers cover a large range across most of North America and can be found in suburbs, marches, forest edges of the prairie foothills, and all the way up to the treeline of the Rockies. Some northern flickers remain in the United States and coastal regions of Canada year-round while others will migrate further, as far north as Alaska for breeding and into parts of Central America to overwinter. Like most woodpeckers, northern flickers fly in an undulating motion featuring a few quick flaps followed by glides with tucked wings.


Although northern flickers are currently listed as a low concern species, habitat loss, insecticides, and other urban hazards can threaten these woodpeckers. Additionally, despite having adaptations, including a reinforced skull and specialized brain cushioning that allow them to withstand the sustained force of pecking, northern flickers and other woodpeckers are still vulnerable to window strikes.


If you would like to support the care of these and other native birds brought to AIWC for rehabilitation and release, donate to our Wish List, get organized with a 2018 Calendar, or send your holiday greetings on an AIWC Christmas Card.


By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer



Wildlife-Vehicle Collisions in Alberta peak in November

The Swainson’s hawk in this photo is a current patient at AIWC after being found near a roadway emaciated and with many injuries consistent with trauma. Like most of our patients, we can’t know precisely what happened to him, but it is very likely he was hit by a vehicle. He was admitted in August, but because his injuries were not healed in time for him to meet migration south with the rest of his species, he will now over-winter with AIWC and be released back to the wild in the spring.

According to the provincial government, approximately half of all rural vehicle accidents in Alberta involve wildlife, with most of these accidents happening between 7:00 p.m. and 11:00 p.m. There are over a thousand crashes each month, but that number more than doubles each November, with over 2,600 accidents happening on rural Alberta roads.

Here at AIWC, we often see patients brought in with serious injuries following collisions with vehicles, both on highways and on busy city streets. Frequent patients include raptors, such as hawks and owls, who take advantage of roadside perches such as light posts to watch for prey who try to dart across the roadways without cover. Scavengers, such as crows, ravens, and skunks are also at high risk, attracted to litter and garbage in the ditch, or carcasses on the road. In some cases, roads were built through popular migration routes making the likelihood of seeing wildlife crossing high during peak migration times.

So what can you do to minimize vehicle collisions with wildlife?

  • Avoid throwing any litter/garbage out your window which may attract wildlife
  • Be alert and slow down when driving at dusk/dawn when wildlife is most active
  • Slow down once you see wildlife near the road – you can never be sure where they’re going or how many of them there may be
  • Pay attention to posted wildlife warning signs
  • Use your high beams when driving at night for best visibility
  • Avoid distracted driving; paying attention to your surroundings is the best way to prevent a collision!

What to do if you find injured wildlife on the side of the road:

Resources & Further Reading:

“Drivers reminded to be aware of wildlife on roads”, November 1, 2013: