Archives > April 2018

Waterfowl and bread: a good idea?

Now that the weather is warming up and the ice is thawing, and waterfowl start to return to Alberta, you may see people by the river, feeding bread to the ducks and geese. It may look fun, and you might be tempted to join in, but did you know that feeding animals can sometimes do more harm than good – especially if they are being fed bread?

Feeding bread to waterfowl has been linked a condition known as “angel wing syndrome”, which causes the end joints of the birds’ wings to develop abnormally. Bread is high in carbohydrates and lacks several minerals that are vital to proper waterfowl bone development. This syndrome completely prevents affected birds from flying at all, leading to an early death for many of these animals.

AIWC recommends that people do not feed any species of wildlife, as feeding can habituate animals to humans and increase the likelihood of them being injured by human-related activities.

Think you’ve spotted an injured or orphaned animal? Call our clinic at 403-946-2361! If you have any questions about local wildlife, you can also e-mail us at info@aiwc.ca

Hop to it: fun rabbit facts that will put a spring in your step

Thoughts of springtime are usually accompanied by images of cotton-tailed bunnies munching on verdant buds and freshly grown grass. But there’s more to these hopping carrot lovers than meets the eye. For instance, did you know that hares and rabbits are distinctly different animals?

To brush up on your knowledge about these symbols of springtime, here are a few fun facts about the rabbits and hares you might spy in Alberta this spring:

  • The difference between rabbits and hares can be easily observed in their respective sizes. Hares typically have larger ears and hind feet, while rabbits are smaller in scale. Additionally, rabbits are more social animals, while hares are less social and more skittish.
  • Similarly, another difference between hares and wild rabbits is that the coats of the latter remain one colour (usually grey or brown) all year round, while the former changes from brown in the summer to white in the winter in an effort to blend in with their surroundings.
  • Baby rabbits are called ‘kittens’ or ‘kits’, while infant hares are known as ‘leverets’.
  • With the way that rabbits’ and hares’ eyes are positioned on their heads, they are afforded a complete 360 degree field of vision. This lack of visual blind spots comes at a price, though, as their depth perception is shoddy.
  • Looking to spot some hopping four-legged friends in Alberta this spring? Keep an eye out for the following critters, all of which are native to the province:
    • Mountain cottontail rabbits are AB’s resident rabbit, and an adult rabbit typically grows to weigh just over 2.5 lbs. They can be easily identified by their shorter ears and hind feet, as well as their grey-brown colouring that gives way to a white coat on their bellies.
    • Just like the name suggests, the snowshoe hare’s hind feet allow the animal to seemingly float above deep snow, instead of letting it sink into the cold snow. This allows for quicker transportation and a higher level of agility when dodging predators.
    • Though the name may be misleading, the white-tailed jackrabbit isn’t actually a rabbit by definition. This hare typically grows to weigh about 7.5 lbs., and can generally be found in southern Alberta’s grassland, parkland, and foothill regions.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer

Sources: AEP Alberta, ThoughtCo., National Geographic

The Cormorants are Coming!

Every year in late April to early May, seabirds known as double-crested cormorants (Phalacrocorax auritis) make their homes on and near Alberta lakes and rivers to breed and raise their young. So named because of the long, fine feathers that appear behind each eye in spring, they are one of approximately forty sub-species in the world.

The name cormorant is a contraction of two Latin words; corvus and marinus which when put together mean “sea raven”. With their penchant for fishing and their black colour it is easy to see why.

The double-crested cormorant is a large black bird with a long sinuous neck and a yellow-orange throat patch. They weigh between 1.2 and 2.5 kilos and are exceptional divers, some able to dive to depths of 45 meters using their powerful webbed feet and using their wings as rudders. Cormorants eat a wide variety of fish along with some crustaceans, amphibians and insects. Their long beak, with the tip of the bill shaped like a hook, is an excellent aid in catching prey.

A cormorant’s time is spent almost equally between fishing and resting. Some people believe that their oil glands are insufficient for waterproofing, and although these oil glands may help them be a better diver, it also means they must spend a large portion of time drying their wings. Observers will often find cormorants on top of tall trees of telephone poles with their wings outstretched to catch the drying rays of the sun.

Cormorants are colonial nesters whose guano has been known to kill the very trees they perch upon. At the very least, it will stain and discolour any rocks below. Cormorants are also known to create pellets of undigested bones and fish scales which they expel much the same as some species of owls.

If spring ever comes, we can expect to see double-crested cormorants soon after!

By Linda J. Schlegel, AIWC Volunteer

Resources and further reading:

https://oceanwildthings.com/2012/10/05-cool-cormorant-facts/

https://allaboutbirds.org/guide/Double-crested-Cormorant/lifehistory/

https://oceanwide-expeditions.com/to-do/wildlife/cormorant-1

Invasive Species in Alberta

Last month we blogged about why biodiversity is so important for ecosystems and how different ecological functions are performed. But what if there are species in the ecosystem that did not originate there, and are threatening to the health of that ecosystem? These are known as invasive species and we are going to take a closer look at exactly what they are, and how they affect Alberta’s ecosystems.

What are invasive species?

An invasive species is a species that is not native to the area in which they are found, and has been introduced (whether accidentally or intentionally) from elsewhere. An invasive species can be threating to, or have severe impacts on native species they share an ecosystem with (AEP).

A species being labeled as “invasive” typically means that because it did not originate in the ecosystem it is “invading”, it has no natural predators and will likely be able to out-compete native species for food and other resources, which can have a dramatic effect on the biodiversity and function.

Which invasive species affect Alberta?

The biggest, and most likely well-known invasive species is the brown rat (Rattus norvegicus), which was introduced into North America in the 1700s and followed the spread of colonisation across the continent, with the earliest recorded in Alberta in the 1950s. Brown rats can have severe impacts on the environment, not just for the other animal species but us as well. Destruction and contamination of food and livestock, weakening of man-made structures through tunneling, and of course the various dangerous diseases that they carry.

Thankfully, Alberta is known as one of the world’s biggest “rat-free” populations, because there is no breeding population here and we have extensive rat-control programs that prevent many of them from entering the province (Conservation Alberta 2016; Alberta Agriculture and Forestry 2017).

Another example that may not seem quite as obvious is the common goldfish (Cassius auratus), a very common pet species, native to eastern Asia. The main threat goldfish (and other pet fish) pose to the natural ecosystem is likely competition for food and resources, but they may also carry diseases and parasites that the native species have never developed resistances to.

Unfortunately, a large percentage of goldfish found in the “wild” were dumped there when they became to difficult or inconvenient to keep as pets, likely into freshwater ponds, which do usually connect into flowing water and thus the wider water basin, and these goldfish can spread very quickly if left unchecked (Conservation Alberta 2016).

Invasive species are not necessarily only animals. There are also highly threatening plant species that can take over an ecosystem. In Alberta, one of the more highly known is the flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus), which infests freshwater habitats like lakes or streams, growing in thick, choking “mat-like” patches. This reduces the water quality, displaces native species, and disrupts the flow of water across the basin. Careful removal of flowering rush is essential, as even small pieces lost can infest a new area if left unnoticed (AEP).

What can we do to avoid spreading or introducing invasive species?

The majority of invasive species control is directed by the Alberta and smaller local governments, who are also responsible for creating and developing education about which invasive species affect Alberta and what can be done to prevent/control them.

Collaborative work between the government, volunteer groups and landowners aiming to improve public awareness and improve co-ordination and communication is key in decreasing the risk of invasive species (AEP).

On an individual level, being aware of which species may be threatening, and taking care not to introduce (whether accidentally or on purpose) foreign species into the wilds are the best steps we can take to helping preserve our native ecosystems.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/invasive-species/default.aspx

http://www.ab-conservation.com/publications/conservation-magazine/spring-summer-2016/

http://www1.agric.gov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex3441

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/invasive-species/aquatic-invasive-species/documents/AIS-QuickfactsFloweringRush-Oct-2017.pdf