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Trumpeter Swans


Photo credit:  Parks Canada

You may have noticed big white birds in lakes and ponds recently who aren’t normally there. These birds are trumpeter swans.

Trumpeter swans breed in the summer time and spend their summers in northern Alberta, northern British Columbia, Yukon and Northwest Territories among other smaller summer populations. It is believed that most breeding pairs of trumpeter swans breed for life. Both parents work together for two to four weeks to build a nest that can reach up to 3.4 meters in width and 2.7 meters in height!

Trumpeter swans will have one brood per season with four to six offspring. Offspring only stay in their nests for one day and are able to swim and eat upon leaving.  They can fly in 90 to 122 days.

When the season begins to change and weather becomes cooler, these swans begin to migrate to their winter range which is located on the northern Pacific coast. While migrating, they stop at bodies of water along the way to take breaks and eat, which is why we have been able to see them more frequently near the Calgary area recently.

Here are some more interesting facts you might not have known about trumpeter swans:

  •   A baby swan is called a “cygnet”, an adult male is called a “cob”, and an adult female is called a “pen”.
  •   They are very sensitive to human disturbance and will abandon nests and cygnets if they are disturbed.
  •   They are adapted to live on or near bodies of water, and feed mainly on aquatic vegetation.
  •   They are the heaviest flying bird in North America. Males can weigh up to 11.8 kilograms (heavier than a         Canada goose which can weigh up to 8.6 kilograms, and slightly heavier than a wild turkey which can weigh up to 10.9 kilograms!).
  •   Trumpeter swans are called trumpeter swans because their calls sound like trumpets.
  •   Similar species include tundra swans and mute swans, which are both smaller and lack the completely black bills that trumpeter swans have (tundra swans have a yellow spot at the base of the bill, and mute swans have an orange bill).
  •   These birds were nearly hunted to extinction—there were only 69 known individuals by 1935. Today, hunting of these birds is illegal. Intense conservation efforts have helped protect this species and more than 34,000 individuals were recorded in 2005.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC volunteer


The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. All About Birds. Trumpeter swan. Available at:


Heading South


In Canada, we accept the end of summer when we seethe leaves changing colour, the days getting shorter, frost coating windshields over night and signs for pumpkin-flavoured lattes and treats in every shop window!

Most notably, and perhaps most distinct to the North, the sound of honking fills the air as “V” shaped formations of Canada geese begin their yearly trip south of the border.

Along with the beaver, loon and polar bear, Canada geese are a national staple. Whether we’re witnessing their seasonal arrivals and departures or getting honked at when walking past a nest, Canadians know and love their fellow feathered Canadians.

Canada geese munch on grasses, sedges, eel grass and skunk cabbage during the spring and summer, and those who stick around Southern Canada for the winter enjoy lots of berries and seeds.

In the spring, you might notice many geese in areas with expansive green space.

To keep an eye on any incoming predators, the long-necked birds set up nests in parks, golf courses, school campuses and lawns. Female Canada geese use reeds, grasses, lichens, mosses and other plant materials to create nests for off spring, and prefer to set up camp near grassy fields, grain fields or water.

Females select nest sites, build the nest and incubate the eggs (usually four to seven per goose.) The male goose guards the nest while the female incubates.

Oh did I mention? Canada geese mate for life! Cute right? At around two years old, geese lock it down with a partner for breeding and the pair raises young, eats and migrates together, usually for the rest of their lives!

According to, Canada geese have very low “divorce-rates” and tend to stick together unless one dies.

Once goslings can fly and the soil beneath their breeding grounds starts to freeze, Canadian geese hightail it outta there!

Come winter, some geese settle for the more temperate winter climates of British Columbia, Southern Ontario and Southern Alberta, but most will head into the U.S. or even Mexico. Flocks tend to return to the same migratory locations on their journey, stopping in to eat and rest before continuing on.

Migratory groups of Canada geese include families and solo flyers.  Stronger, more experienced geese fly closer to the front of the “V” formation.

Some scientists believe that the geese use the “V” to create a drafting effect, where the lead geese take the brunt of the air flow and the following geese benefit from air currents and can expend less energy. The “V” formation also coordinates the flock’s movements, allowing changes in pace or course to be communicated quickly amongst the birds.

According to Hinterland Who’s Who, some geese have been recorded travelling up to 1,000 kilometres a day!

Canada geese are pretty amazing! But don’t step on their territory—and if you do, get out of there quick! A Canada goose that feels threatened may do some head pumping, tongue raising, hissing, honking and feather vibrating, and might even try to take a nip at you.

So how do you know if a goose needs your help? And how do you help? A goose that sticks to the same location and doesn’t appear to fly might be injured. Your best bet for helping him or her is to call AIWC at (403) 946-2361.

AIWC is open 365 days a year. Starting this September until April, hours of operation are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Check out AIWC’s Instagram account to see a Canada goose patient in recovery.

 “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”― Henry David Thoreau

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer



Preparing for the Changing Seasons

Now that AIWC has reached the end of its busiest season and we start getting closer to fall, you may notice that wildlife behaviour is changing just like the leaves.  It may seem too soon to start thinking about the snowy weather, but birds, mammals, reptiles and amphibians have all begun preparing for winter.

Ungulates like mule deer, elk, moose and caribou will travel less and eat more in an effort to consume an increased amount of fat and protein.  This helps them gain weight to get through the short winter days and long winter nights when food becomes scarcer and temperatures drop.  Squirrels and native birds have similarly started to stock up, while many migratory birds have begun their treks to warmer climates further south – you may see several species as they travel through Alberta.  Snakes and bears will also be preparing their dens to hibernate over winter.

To help animals through the changing seasons consider postponing your yard work until spring.  Leaves, plant stalks, flower bulbs, and vegetable seeds from your garden provide great food and shelter to wildlife.  If you’re not inclined to use the fall to relax, build a brush pile away from the house as a winter habitat for small animals, and hang streamers or put up decals in windows to prevent bird strikes as collisions tend to increase in the migratory period.

This is the perfect time of year to observe Alberta’s wildlife, so make sure to get outdoors before you need your winter coat!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer

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


A Small Gesture Can Make A Big Difference

At AIWC 95% of animals we treat are injured or orphaned due to human activities. The most common causes of injury are window strikes, vehicle collision, hitting power lines, barbed wire, fishing line entanglement or ingestion, domestic cat and dog attacks, and exposure to toxins. Often wildlife is orphaned by needless rescuing of babies who should have been left where they were.

Of course there are many other dangers to animals out there that aren’t necessarily as obvious as the ones we talk about most often, but are critical for humans to consider.  Among those dangers are hockey nets.  They tend to be utilized all year long, and are almost always found sitting on the driveway in any residential neighbourhood.

While hockey nets can provide hours of great physical fun for humans, they are fatal to baby hares more often than not.  That was the case for a baby hare that came to our hospital recently.   This little hare became entangled in the hockey net when trying to hop through, and the more he struggled the worse things became.  Sadly, he suffered from spinal trauma and didn’t survive.   Unfortunately, animals do not realise or recognise the dangers that are out there until it’s too late.

Situations such as this are completely preventable, if we all take that extra moment to consider what dangers could be lurking in our own back yard for unsuspecting wildlife.   Hockey nets can simply be moved into the garage or put into a fenced back yard after use.

This is something to keep in mind with hares having their last litter of the year right now.  Spread the word to your children, your neighbours and your community.  It’s a small gesture that can save a big life.

Every wild life matters.


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

The Ravishing Raptors of Southern Alberta



Have you noticed any long winged, curved-beaked, talon-clawed birds soaring through the sky this summer?

Yes? Then you are witnessing Alberta’s raptor season!  No, not Jurassic Park raptors, BIRD raptors!

Birds of prey, like hawks, falcons, owls and eagles are known as raptors.  Their tough, hooked beaks and sharp, curved talons make them experts at catching and devouring snacks like mice, ground squirrels, small birds and other rodents.

These soaring species’ have amazing eyesight!  How else would they be able to spot tiny mammals from all the way up in the sky?

While owls have unique features, Alberta’s hawks and falcons can be tough to tell apart.

Common falcon species in Southern Alberta include the American Kestrel, Merlin Falcon, Peregrine Falcon and Prairie Falcon.  Some hawks you might see around include the Swainson’s Hawk, Ferruginuous Hawk, Harrier Hawk or Red-tailed Hawk.

Here are a few clues to help you identify the raptors of Alberta’s skies.

Clue #1: Falcons have smooth, pointed wings, while hawks have “fingers” or edges to their wings.

Clue #2: The Swainson’s Hawk is one of the most common species living on the prairies.  (In fact, right now, AIWC is caring for seven Swainson’s Hawks! Mostly due to run-ins with vehicles, as these feathered beauties do a lot of hunting near roads.) These raptors have dark brown bodies and wings on the top with lighter beige underneath.

Clue #3: Falcons can reach diving speeds up to 300 kilometres an hour. You probably won’t have time to pull out your stopwatch, but these guys can move pretty quick!  Their prey hardly stands a chance.

Clue #4: The Peregrine Falcon is another raptor that calls Alberta home.  While they come in a variety of sizes, you might be able to spot a peregrine falcon from the dark band on their head; like they are wearing a little hood or cap.  These falcons like using cliffs as nesting sights but have adapted to use building ledges when nesting in urban areas.

Clue #5: Spot a raptor with white eyebrows and a light belly by a prairie river? Chances are, you’re looking at a Prairie Falcon!  These swift falcons like to nest in caves and ledges by running water in the prairies.  They’re a pretty rare find, but white bird poop on cliff faces might be an indication that Prairie Falcons are nearby!

Clue #7: Notice a big raptor with a red tail hanging out around Calgary or Edmonton?  That’s a Red-tailed Hawk!  These feathered city slickers like to perch on highway lights and signs, scanning the area for mice or other prey.  While they prefer wooded areas, Red-tailed Hawks do well near large urban centres.

Clue #8: Whats that sound?  Well, it might be a Merlin Falcon!  These little raptors have a distinctive call and do well in urban areas.  Feeding on little birds and nesting in planted trees makes city life ideal for the Merlin Falcon.

Clue #9: The Ferruginous Hawk (whew, what a mouthful!) is the largest species of hawk in the world.  Their favourite meal is a Richardson’s ground squirrel, but these big raptors will eat all sorts of mammals.  They will also eat snakes!  These hawks aren’t big fans of cities and prefer grasslands to city life.

There is so much more to learn and appreciate about Alberta’s raptors!  Like all species, birds of prey play an important role in the natural world and deserve our respect and admiration.

If you come across abandoned or badly injured raptors or other wildlife, call AIWC’s hotline at 403-946-2361.

 “Wildness is the preservation of the World.”― Henry David Thoreau




Fall Migration Detour…

It is very common to see a Swainson’s Hawk searching for prey over Alberta prairie fields or perched atop fence posts next to them.

The beautiful Swainson’s Hawk can be a sight for soar eyes here at AIWC this time of year—late August and September—when they are starting their trip of over 12,000 miles to Argentina.

AIWC has 7 hawks in care right now—mostly due to car collisions, as some of their hunting takes place on the side of the roads and highways.

Swainson’s Hawk pairs share the effort of building the nest, though the male picks the nest site.  Nests are built in trees as well as the occasional power pole, located near agricultural fields and pastures, where they feed.  It can take up to two weeks to build and consists of twigs, sticks and debris items they find like rope and wire.  The nest is lined with grass, hay, weed stalks, fresh leafy twigs and may even include cow dung.  When finished, the nest can reach up to .61 meters in diameter and is over .30 meters high. Hawks may re-use nests from previous years including those of crows or magpies.

Swainson’s Hawks will have 1 brood per year of 3 to 5 chicks.  They feed their chicks a diet of rodents, rabbits, and reptiles. But when they’re not breeding, the adults switch to a diet made up almost exclusively of insects, especially grasshoppers, dragonflies and butterflies that they catch on their wings.

The good news is that AIWC expects most of the seven Swainson’s Hawks in care to make a full recovery and to be ready to join the rest of their group (migrating groups are called kettles) on their journey to the warmth and sun of South America.

These hawks would not be making this migration journey if it wasn’t for the care and compassion of Albertans who call our hotline to let us know there is a wild life in need.  Thank you!!

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

“We don’t own the earth.  We are the earth’s caretakers.  We take care of it and all the things on it.  And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”  Katherine Hannigan, author.

Wildlife…Our Shared Responsibility



We have a shared responsibility to wildlife.  For as long as there have been people, there have been dangers to our wildlife. At AIWC we believe our responsibility to wildlife goes far beyond the walls of our clinic.

Whether it is the assistance and information we provide to the more than 5,000 individuals that call our hotline yearly, our on-site talks, or the outreach programming we provide to the greater community, we are working to create a strong co-existence between Albertans and wildlife.

AIWC’s Education programs emphasize the importance of environmental protection, and may be the most important investment we can offer Alberta’s youth.

With the beginning of the school year just around the corner, it time to start thinking about the amazing education programs we offer:

Who’s in Your Backyard?

An interactive program focusing on wildlife commonly seen in Alberta. Learn about the life cycles of different wild animals, the roles they play in our ecosystem, and the common reasons why they are admitted to our clinic.

Wildlife Rescue

This program gives participants a glimpse into the inner workings of a local wildlife rehabilitation centre – from field rescues to the wildlife hospital.

Birds of Prey

Which raptor flies like a stealth bomber and which dives like a fighter jet? Take a close up look at birds of prey and learn how they hunt, migrate, and compete with one another.

The World of Owls

Specific to the 11 species of owls found in Alberta, this session aligns with elementary school programs.

Bat Basics

This program features Alberta bats and explains why they are so beneficial to humans. Topics include bat species of Alberta, diet and echolocation, life cycle, migration and hibernation, myth busting, and cool facts!


Focusing on fascinating physical and behavioural adaptations of local wildlife, this program shows children how feathers and fur, talons and claws, whiskers, hollow bones and nocturnal behaviour help animals to survive.


How do Alberta’s wildlife know where and when to migrate? Where does the wildlife go? Do animals return to the same place every year?

 Supremely Skunks

Skunk behaviour is the topic of this program which informs audiences that this often misunderstood creature can be a great wild neighbour!

Wetlands Wildlife

The Wetlands Wildlife program introduces learners to wetland ecosystems and explores topics such as types of wetlands in Alberta, the function of wetlands in some areas of the world, biodiversity & current threats to our wetlands.

For more information on our education programs or our on-site talks contact our Education and Community Engagement Coordinator Katrina Jansen at

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

“We don’t own the earth.  We are the earth’s caretakers.  We take care of it and all the things on it.  And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”  Katherine Hannigan, author.




Bark for the Bites

Our local forests provide important habitats and food staples for much of Alberta’s wildlife and many of AIWC’s patients.  Trees provide nest areas for birds, building materials for rodents, cover and camouflage for ground dwelling animals, and food for ungulates such as moose.  The shade from large trees provides the necessary environments for many of Alberta’s berries, while downfall supports the growth of fungi which serve as important nutrient sources for squirrels, bears and insects (among others).

Porcupines like to consume the inner tree bark of many coniferous trees, while beavers tend to prefer the bark of deciduous trees.  Many animals need the seeds for survival.

Currently AIWC has a number of patients – including porcupines and beavers –  who would benefit from donations of fresh aspen, poplar, or willow branches for either food or a temporary habitat.  Additional in-kind donations of the following are also welcome and will help to ensure our creature friends have sanctuaries suitable for their recovery while at AIWC:



All-purpose cleaner

High efficiency laundry soap (unscented and phosphate free)

Toilet paper

Extra-large garbage bags

Fresh/frozen blueberries



Corn on the cob

Lean ground beef


Volunteers are also always needed at the centre so consider signing up to help move trees around, and to support our patients in getting back to their wild homes!


Don’t Bat an Eye!


You might have this reaction if you ran into one of Alberta’s flying, nocturnal critters like the big brown bat or the little brown bat.

Poor bats have a bad reputation. Between Halloween, vampires and all sorts of myths, bats have been portrayed as dangerous cave dwellers and Dracula’s side kicks!

Well… they do like caves. But the truth is that bats are friendly, peaceful mammals that avoid people.

Alberta’s bats are incredibly unique, valuable critters that feed almost exclusively on insects. They enjoy tasty night-time active bugs like moths and beetles and even help us by eating pesky mosquitos and flies.

A fun bat fact? Despite spending most of their time snoozing upside down, they are the only mammals that can truly “fly.” Using special “hand-wings” made up of membranes in their legs, bats can swoop and soar easier than most birds can!

One of the coolest things about bats is how they find their way around. Contrary to popular belief, bats are not blind! They have short-range vision that can help them navigate darkness. Their main navigational tool however is echo-location.

Ultrasonic waves bouncing off objects provide bats with an echo that allows them to determine where and what an object is. Neat right? Bats are so good at “hearing” objects that they don’t even get confused when flying around thousands of other bats!

So where might you run into one of these special critters? In the summertime, Alberta’s bats like to hang out… well pretty much anywhere! Forests, foothills and parklands are habitats for many bats but some city slickers enjoy setting up camp in urban areas, roosting in buildings, barns, garages caves and many other dark crevices.

You’re not very likely to run into a bat in the winter. A lot of bats opt to go on vacation, heading south for the colder months. The ones that stay behind hibernate, going into an intense energy-conserving state that allows them to sleep until the warmer weather returns.

This is why you should try to avoid waking up a sleeping bat! Hibernating bats don’t have a lot of energy to waste, and disturbing them can cause them to use up a lot of energy, leading to starvation. In fact, according to Alberta Environment and Parks’ website, it is illegal in Alberta to disturb bat hibernation sites between Sept. 1 and April 30.

So forget all the bad things you might have heard about bats and remember that these furry, winged mammals help with insect control and play a huge role in Alberta’s ecosystem (and they definitely aren’t friends with Dracula.)

From January until now, AIWC has taken in big brown bats, little brown bats and silver-haired bats.  Check out AIWC’s Instagram account for a video of a baby big brown bat patient eating his dinner!

To help support AIWC and it’s bat patients, donate or become a member today.


“We don’t own the earth. We are the earth’s caretakers. We take care of it and all the things on it. And when we’re done with it, it should be left better than we found it.”
― Katherine Hannigan, author.

Information collected from Alberta Environment and Parks website:

By: N. Grossman, Volunteer Writer.

Keeping the “Wild” in Wildlife

Habituation, defined by the Oxford dictionary, is when an organism stops responding to typical stimulus.

In terms of animals, this means they no longer have normal reactions as they would in the wild. Habituation, otherwise known as imprinting, can occur if a wild animal is kept in captivity too long. They stop viewing humans as predators and start thinking of them as a part of their life, much like a domestic animal.

On top of that, animals that were predators in the wild will forget how to hunt, and herbivores will not know what plant life to look for when foraging for food.

As keeping the wild in wildlife is very important to us here at AIWC, we strive to do the best we can to make sure habituation does not happen with the animals we have in care.  We do this by:

  • Limiting contact with the animals in care to only when necessary, for example: examinations, medicating, enclosure transfer etc.
  • Whispering when working with and around them.
  • Using a towel to wrap or cover them when moving or examining them.
  • Avoiding eye contact as much as possible.
  • Making sure we progress them through the rehabilitation process and back into the wild as soon as they are ready to be released.

In Canada, wild animals are protected by law under the Canada Wildlife Act, which makes it illegal to keep or care for any wildlife unless you are a registered wildlife charity. Please don’t try to keep, raise, or care for any wildlife on your own. Please call us at (403)-946-2361 with any concerns about wildlife.

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