Archives > May 2018

A Tale of Two Beavers

In June of 2016, a baby beaver was found on a Calgary-area golf course, alone and with an injured tail. The baby beaver, who was estimated to be between four and six weeks old, was taken to AIWC for care.

 

Beavers remain close to their young for several years, so it was unusual to find such a young beaver all on its own. It was suspected that this youngster may have been carried off and abandoned by a predator.

 

At AIWC’s facility, the baby beaver’s injuries were addressed, and she was taken out to the pool several times a day so she could drink and bathe. You may remember this video, which made the news worldwide and had over 15 million views!

 

Then in June of 2017, AIWC admitted a two-year-old male beaver who was found in a storm drain, suffering from deep bite wounds on his lower back. After some care, the male beaver was moved to an outdoor enclosure, next to the female beaver patient. One evening, staff witnessed both beavers walking along the fence line together. Despite the fact that beavers in captivity typically do not bond well, a friendship was forming!

 Slowly, the beavers were introduced to one another, and they got along swimmingly! Bonding the two beavers together means they will be stronger together once they return to the wild. The pair spent their remaining days at AIWC enjoying each other’s company.

 

On May 18, 2018, both beavers were released back into the wild. They will make their home in the Sandy Cross Conservation Area in an area far from hiking trails, that requires special permission to access. It is hoped this pair will continue to thrive and will live a long, happy life together in their new home.

 

If you are interested in helping AIWC create more happy endings like this one, please visit https://aiwc.shop/products/donate-to-aiwc.

Baby Fever!

Spring has sprung, and this means one of AIWC’s busiest seasons has arrived! Through spring and summer, AIWC will admit hundreds of new patients, many of them babies.

Many babies that will be admitted will be orphaned or injured, but some are taken by well-intentioned members of the public when the babies are not actually in danger. Remember that mother hares often leave their babies alone for hours during the day to avoid attracting predators with her scent or movement! If you spot a baby that you believe may be in need of assistance, please call AIWC for advice before intervening.

Since it’s baby fever season, it’s a perfect time to review the proper names for animal babies so you can wow your friends with your animal knowledge!

  • Did you know that while we typically call a baby rabbit a bunny, the technical term is actually a kitten? Skunk, bobcat and cougar babies are also called kittens.
  • Most of us know a baby bear is called a cub. A baby fox is also called a cub, or a kit, and a wolf baby can be called a cub, pup, or whelp!
  • A baby buffalo and baby elk are called a calf.
  • A baby duck is a duckling, a baby goose is a gosling, a baby hawk is a chick or eyas, and a baby pigeon is a squab or (more adorably) a squeaker!

It costs AIWC anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000 to rehabilitate a single animal, and each year, the demand for AIWC’s services increases. Here’s some examples of costs during AIWC’s peak seasons:

  • Food for 1 fox kit for 1 day: $5.25
  • 1 bottle of antibiotics for injured wildlife (lasts 7-14 days depending on quantity needed): $19.35
  • Specialized feeding nipples for mammals: $200.00
  • 30,000 mealworms (this will last for 7-8 days in our peak spring and summer seasons): $565.00
  • Fresh produce for patients in care (will last 4-5 days): $343.00
  • Milk replacer for baby mammals: $1,800.00

If you are interested in helping support AIWC in their quest to care for orphaned and injured wildlife, here are some ways you can help!

Our Smelly Neighbour – The Striped Skunk

Of the four skunk species that live in North America, the striped skunk Mephitis mephitis is the most common and is the only one of the four that lives in Alberta.   Striped skunks can be found across the province but they are most commonly found in settled central and southern areas. They inhabit farmlands, grasslands and forests, and can also be found in towns and cities.

The striped skunk is about the size of a house cat, with adults weighing between 2 and 4 kilograms and measuring about 74 cm in length. They have a distinctive look, with their thick glossy black coat and white markings that start as a narrow stripe down the centre of the face extending into a wider stripe at the back of the head, separating at the shoulders and continuing as a white stripe along each side of the back to the base of their tail. Their tail is mostly black but stripes may extend down it.

The striped skunk is a member of the weasel family Mustelidae, who all have well developed scent glands; however, the striped skunk has taken this to the next level! In fact, the scientific name mephitis is Latin for ‘bad odour’. The striped skunk’s scent glands hold approximately 15 cc’s of an oily yellowish liquid which is a sulphur compound n-butyl mercaptan. The skunk can spray this fluid 4 – 5 metres and up to 6 times in a row.  The odour is strong enough to carry almost 1 km on the wind.

Skunks are not aggressive, but they may spray if they feel threatened. A skunk may show its intentions by growling, hissing, stamping its front feet and raising its tail. To avoid getting “skunked”, back away slowly and quietly, and avoid making any sudden movements.

Striped skunks are omnivores. Their diet consists of insects, including grasshoppers and crickets. They also eat insect larvae such as white grubs and army and cut worms which they dig for with their sharp front claws. Skunks also eat mice, shrews, ground squirrels, young rabbits, birds’ eggs and various plants. In the fall and winter, a skunk’s diet consists mainly of almost equal amounts of plant and animal food.  Approximately 70% of the skunk’s diet is beneficial to humans, with only 5% being harmful to human property. Skunks have been known to visit bee hives and hen houses.

The striped skunk does not hibernate, but is not active during the coldest of winter months. Although it is not normally a social creature, it will share its den with other skunks in order to keep warm. The striped skunk gathers leaves for its den by stuffing them beneath its body and shuffling along with the leaves between its legs.

As spring is definitely in the air, no doubt the striped skunk will be making its appearance across the province!

By Linda Schlegel, AIWC Volunteer

Sources and further reading

aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/human-wildlife-conflict/skunks.aspx

https://www1.agricgov.ab.ca/$department/deptdocs.nsf/all/agdex4663

www.hww.ca/en/wildlife/mammals/striped-skunk-html

Alberta’s Pollinators

What is pollination?

Pollination is how plants and flowers reproduce and obtain the ability to grow seeds, which involves the transfer of pollen (a grain-like substance that contains the “male” gametes) from one flower to another, usually facilitated by other sources, whether abiotic (wind, rain) or biotic (animal dispersal). Some plants are even able to self-pollinate, or even hybridise with another species to create new subspecies of offspring.

Pollination is essential for the reproduction and spread of plant species, and the animals that help facilitate the exchange of pollen are perhaps even more so.

Since it is finally spring, today we will be taking a closer look at the process of pollination, and how Alberta’s animal species help to distribute and benefit from these plant species.

Alberta’s pollinators

The honeybee (Apis mellifera) is probably the first animal that springs to mind when you think of pollination. But there are several bees found in Alberta, such as the bumblebee and leafcutter bee, that are responsible for spreading pollen from almost every single flowering plant (which they pick up while foraging for nectar).

However, bees are an endangered species, on the decline in many areas of the world, including Alberta, where winter records have shown a 40% decrease in colony populations in some areas (Edmonton Journal).

It isn’t just insects that help our native flowering plants, we also have a large variety of birds, such as the rufous hummingbird (Selaphorus rufus), which can be seen appearing in parts of the province around May if you are lucky enough to see one. Hummingbirds use their extremely long beaks to get at the nectar of flowers, and so are covered in pollen when they arrive at the next flower and pollination occurs.

Speaking of “hummingbirds”, Alberta is also home to one of the few moth species that do act as pollinators, the aptly named hummingbird clearwing moth (Hemaris thetis). This moth flies and feeds on flower nectar in the day time, and even mimics a hummingbird’s flight and hovering behaviours.

How does pollination help us?

Around 90% of flowering plants require some form of animal-mediated pollination to reproduce (Ollerton et al), and so the spread of pollen by animal species is essential for flowering plants, the majority of which constitute our crops and foods (fruits, vegetables and nuts). It is also important to remember that it’s not only humans that use these plant products, and that they fuel the herbivores of every ecosystem which in turn provide for the carnivores. Without pollinating plants, it is very possible for an ecosystem to destabilise.

What can we do?

Many people plant native Albertan species in gardens to encourage their spread by pollinators; beekeeping is also another way to help the declining bee populations as they are kept safe and secure and free to pollinate.

Using a good variety of different flowering species with different colours and shapes will attract a wider variety of species, as well as reducing the amount of chemical pesticide you use on your garden. Providing clean water and helping support land stewardship and conservation are great ways to ensure that our amazing pollinator species and the plants that rely on them will be around for years to come (NRCS).

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

Sources

https://naturecanada.ca/news/blog/the-hummingbird-moth-one-of-canadas-coolest-creatures/

http://edmontonjournal.com/news/insight/diagnosing-bee-pathogens-northern-alberta-centre-provides-critical-services

https://globalnews.ca/news/3466162/planting-bee-friendly-gardens-can-help-bee-populations-in-southern-alberta/

http://www.greencalgary.org/blog/7-great-canadian-pollinators/

Ollerton J, Winfree R, Tarrant S: How many flowering plants are pollinated by animals? Oikos2011, 120(3):321-326.

https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/main/national/plantsanimals/pollinate/gardeners/