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Danger warning! How the Richardson’s ground squirrel uses an ultrasonic alarm call.

Did you know that the Richardson’s ground squirrel uses an ultrasonic alarm call to warn its fellow colony members that danger may be approaching?

The Richardson’s ground squirrel, also referred to as a gopher, prairie gopher, yellow gopher, flickertail or picket pin, can be found all over Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and into the United States. This ground squirrel likes to keep its burrow in sight at all time, hence why they can be found in pastures and parkland, away from bushes and other more dense shrubs (City of Calgary).

Richardson’s ground squirrels live semi-communally, as a female will only tolerate the presence of other females that to whom she is closely related (Wikipedia). These ground squirrels will group their burrows closely together.

A favourite prey of many hawks, the Richardson’s ground squirrel has more than one method for warning their fellow colony members that danger may be approaching. When they sense danger, they may produce an audible alarm call, or an ultrasonic alarm call. These ultrasonic calls communicate very specific information, and studies have show that the type of call may vary, depending upon the predator. The Richardson’s ground squirrel is able to discriminate among callers based on the call, which is around the frequency of approximately 48 kilohertz, far too high for humans and, more importantly, many of their predators to hear (New Scientist).

When scientists studied the response of fellow Richardson’s ground squirrels to one of these calls, they found that the squirrels recognized the calls as a warning, and were visibly more vigilant, scanning the area for predators (New Scientist).

You can recognize the Richardson’s ground squirrel by its dark brown upper side and tan belly. They have shorter, less bushy tails than other ground squirrels, and small, short ears that can look more like holes. The next time you stumble across one, try to notice if you can spot its mouth or throat moving. If so, and you hear no sound, they might just be warning their colony mates with their ultrasonic call about a potential predator – you!

The Richardson’s ground squirrel shown in the image above is currently recovering at AIWC after suffering head trauma.

References and Further Reading

“Gophers”., 2017: Accessed 26 Mar. 2018

“Richardson’s ground squirrel”., 25 Mar. 2018: Accessed 26 Mar. 2018

“Ground squirrels scream ultrasonic warning”., 28 Jul. 2004: Accessed 26 Mar. 2018

“Ground squirrels ultrasonic squeaks revealed”, Muir, Hazel., 28 Jul. 2004: Accessed 26 Mar. 2018

What do birds eat and how do they eat it?

Have you ever wondered what a bird eats in the wild? Obviously bread is not found in the wild, nor should it EVER, under ANY circumstance be fed to a wild bird (see So what do they eat? How do their diets differ in the winter than in the summer? Also, how do they access their food? Do they have special adaptations to allow them to eat certain things? Hopefully this blog will answer some questions you might have about a bird’s diet, and how a few species have evolved with their diets!

Birds that stick around during our winter season in Canada don’t have as wide of a variety of food in winter as they do the rest of the year.

  • Songbirds that stay in the Calgary areas, such as chickadees and nuthatches, are heavily dependent on stores of food that they’ve cached (hidden) throughout the year, and seeds and nuts found on conifer trees in the winter (Cornell 2017a).
  • Magpies, crows and ravens (and other corvids) are opportunistic eaters and often scavenge throughout the winter for seeds, carrion (carcasses), and will also prey upon squirrels, voles and even other birds (Cornell 2017b). Magpies are even known to pick ticks off of cattle, moose and deer (Cornel 2017b).
  • Some ducks and geese that stay all winter rely primarily on seeds, including agricultural grains, for their main food sources (Cornell 2017c,d).

As more birds are returning north after their winter migrations, their food sources are also becoming more plentiful.

  • Songbirds can start to include more insects, wild fruit and a wider variety of seeds and nuts.
  • Corvids also include more insects and wild fruit into their diets, as well as the eggs of other birds, the young of birds and small mammals, and even amphibians.
  • Waterfowl rely more heavily on aquatic vegetation, aquatic insect larvae, earthworms, snails and freshwater shrimp (Cornell 2017d).

Patients at AIWC receive balanced diets that attempt to mimic the nutrients they would find in the wild. Various household fruits and vegetables, as well as mealworms, eggs, and a variety of seeds and nuts are some of the items you would find in AIWC’s kitchen on any given day. Vitamins and supplements are often added to patient’s meals to ensure they recover back to full health prior to release.

Interestingly, birds have physical adaptations that have evolved over time to allow them easier access to their food sources. Here are just a few of them!

  • Of the 10,000 birds species on earth, only 5 have crossed bills and they are all in the finch family (Cornell University 2017e). A crossed bill refers to when the upper and lower parts of the beak do not line up and cross over each other when they are closed. This type of bill or beak is adapted to reach seeds deep in some tree cones that other birds cannot reach. The white-winged crossbill is an example of a bird that has this adaptation and is found in the Calgary region. Similar to right a left-handed people, not all crossed bills cross in the same direction!
  • Birds such as woodpeckers have adapted to be able to peck at the bark of trees to find sap or insects hiding below (Cornell University 2017f). Not only are their beaks, necks, and skulls incredibly strong, but their tails feathers and feet are also adapted to help grip  the trunk of a tree as they stand on it and peck. Woodpeckers also have incredibly long tongues to penetrate the holes they peck to get at the insects and sap. Their tongues wrap around their skulls all the way to just behind their eyes!
  • Ducks bills have evolved to allow for efficient foraging in water. The outer edges of a duck bill are soft, and are used to feel for their food (Ducks Unlimited 2018). Ducks bills have a point at the end that is used for moving food, similar to how we would use our fingernails (Ducks Unlimited 2018). On the inside of a duck bill you will find lamellae. Lamellae look like teeth, and act like a filter to separate food from non-food items when foraging in the water.

Next time you are outside and observing the birds around you, stop and assess what type of food they are eating and how they are eating it! You might be surprised to notice what they are eating and how they’ve adapted to eat it!

As the spring season begins to ramp up, AIWC will be expecting increasing numbers of patients we receive. Food is vital in the rehabilitation of patients! If you would like to contribute to the care of our patients, please visit our donation page (

Please feel free to leave a comment below about a special food-related adaptation you’ve noticed!

By Tayler Lafreniere, AIWC Volunteer


Cornell University. 2017a. Red-breasted Nuthatch: Life History. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2018.

Cornell University. 2017b. Magpie: Life History. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Available at:  Accessed March 12, 2018.


Cornell University. 2017c. Canada Goose: Life History. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2018.

Cornell University. 2017d. Mallard: Life History. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology. Available at:  Accessed March 12, 2018.

Cornell University. 2017e. White-winged Crossbill Foraging Adaptation. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2018.

Cornell University. 2017f. Built to Peck: How Woodpeckers Avoid Brain Injury. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2018.

Ducks Unlimited. 2018. The Scoop on Duck Bills. Available at: Accessed March 12, 2018.

What’s in a Name? Comparing the Rabbit and the Hare

Although the terms “rabbit” and “hare” are often used interchangeably, did you know that rabbits and hares are actually different animals?

While both animals belong to the same family, Leporidae, they are actually different species. Hares are typically larger, with longer ears, and are less social than rabbits. Rabbits live in colonies, which is why many have rabbits, not hares, as pets (National Geographic). Hares are faster than rabbits, and have longer, stronger hind legs, allowing them to reach speeds of 37 body lengths per second (National Geographic). Compare this to the fastest human runners, who can run only 6 body lengths per second!

While both species will molt and grow new fur in the spring, hares grow white fur during the winter. Both species live for approximately six years (AEP).

Rabbits are known for their underground burrows, but hares live aboveground. Newborn hares are born fully developed with open eyes and fur and are able to fend for themselves almost immediately, while newborn rabbits have closed eyes and no fur, and are reliant on their parent as they continue to develop. While rabbits tend to be calmer, hares spook easily. During mating season, the female hare will make the male hare chase her over several miles, and if he catches her, she will mate with him, but may throw a punch or two at him before she lets him mate her (National Geographic).

As the warmer weather approaches and baby rabbits and hares are born, it’s important to remember that mother hares and rabbits may leave their babies on their own for the day to avoid attracting predators. So if you see a nest of baby rabbits or hares on their own, don’t panic, and call us for advice before intervening!


Sources and Further Reading:

“What’s the Difference Between Rabbits and Hares?”, Dec. 19, 2014:

“Dare to Compare the Rabbit and the Hare”, Mar. 24, 2016:

All About Biodiversity

What is biodiversity?

Biodiversity can be defined as the variability of all living organisms in all ecosystems (including terrestrial, marine, etc.) and the ecological functions and complexes that they contribute to (UN 1992, WWF) (fig.1).

The term was coined from the field of conservation biology, during the “National Forum of Biodiversity” in 1985, and the subsequent book, The Diversity of Life (Wilson, E.O. 1992) to draw attention to the increased number of species becoming extinct due to human interference. However, as pointed out in What is Biodiversity? (Maclaurin, J & Sterelny, K.), biodiversity cannot accurately be measured by species count alone.

A better way of visualising it is as species richness, or what ecosystem functions and importance that each individual species provides to the ecosystem itself. Are they primary producers, do they provide habitat for other species, or do they provide natural resources?

A wide range of species that provide these essential ecosystem functions is necessary for the system to thrive, and if biodiversity (or the number of species providing these functions) is high, then the loss of one species may be dampened by the presence of similar species that provide similar functions.

Fig.1 Various ecosystem services and the sources that provide them (Source: WWF)

Why is biodiversity important to the environment?

Because every species in an ecosystem contributes in some way to its function, the greater the diversity of species, the less susceptible the ecosystem is to destabilization. There are many potential impacts on ecosystem function, ranging from natural (such as forest fires and floods) to man-made (such as deforestation and farming) and it is important to understand the effects of each on the individual species.

Examples of ecosystem functions that are important for the wider environment are the nitrogen cycle (fig.2), which is extremely important for plant life, and in turn, everything that depends on plant matter, pollination, necessary for the spread of flower and tree species, and soil formation processes that enable the growth of a larger range of species than is typically possible.

Fig.2: The nitrogen cycle is an example of an ecosystem function that depends on a wide variety of organisms (Source: Environmental Protection Agency, c/o Wikipedia).

 Why is biodiversity important to us?

We may tend to think as humans being separate from the ecosystems they inhabit and contribute to, but this is not necessarily correct. A great deal of our success and wellbeing is owed to the many organisms that make up our greater environment.

Agricultural biodiversity, for example, is important in the foundation of crop development and food security, and the resilience to pests and natural disasters (UN CBD).

Medical research is also another reason why biodiversity is important. New species that provide medical benefits to humanity are discovered regularly, as was the case of the waxy monkey frog which was found to have several important peptides that it secretes from its skin and is currently being used to treat cancer patients (Eurekalert 2011).

Loss of biodiversity effects all aspects of the ecosystem, and the removal of certain species may form a domino effect, creating further loss both for humans as a species and the environment.

What can we do to preserve biodiversity?

As always, increasing public knowledge and understanding of the importance of biodiversity is a top priority when it comes to helping preserve it. If you are aware of an ecosystem or natural habitat that is vulnerable, leaving the area and animals (especially nesting sites) undisturbed is the best way to preserve biodiversity on the individual level (Naturetrust BC). Also, it’s important to participate in environmentally-friendly practices, such as recycling or reducing vehicular transportation, and reducing the use of products and materials that negatively impact the environment such as certain pesticides.

At a wider level, participating in park volunteer work and land stewardship is a great way to get involved in protecting our biodiversity, as well as getting in touch with local government if you have concerns about particular areas, environments, or species.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer


Calgary’s Best Winter Walks

There are exactly 21 days left until the first day of spring (but who’s counting) and while you wait for warmer weather, here’s a list of a few parks in Calgary that are perfect for enjoying even when the weather is less than warm and sunny.

Fish Creek Provincial Park

This massive park in Calgary’s south is the perfect destination for a winter jaunt. Some pathways are cleared of snow in the winter, while some snow-covered trails are used by Calgarians for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing.

Bonus: from time to time, nature talks are held at Fish Creek Provincial Park. Check them out here.

Dog Friendly: yes, but coyotes and other wildlife are known to reside in this park, so be sure to keep dogs on their leash at all times.

Glenbow Ranch Provincial Park

This 3,200 acre park just outside of Calgary was established in 2006 and features more than 25 kilometres of pathways. Glenbow Ranch is a working ranch, which means that you can expect to run into cattle during your visit.

Bonus: the Glenbow Ranch Park Foundation has developed plant and wildlife checklists that visitors can complete to help track the prevalence of species in the park. Find them here.

Dog Friendly: yes, but be sure to make sure dogs are kept on leash at all times, as there are cattle in the area.

Nose Hill Park

Nose Hill Park, named for its apparent nose-like appearance from certain angles, covers 11 square kilometres in Calgary’s northwest. Perched high above the city, Nose Hill Park provides a perfect vantage point to view the city skyline. Trails wind through treed areas and meander through wide open expanses.

Dog friendly: yes, but coyotes and porcupines live in the area, so be sure to keep dogs on their leash at all times, though there are designated off-leash areas.

Weaselhead Flats

A bird watcher’s dream, this park in the city’s southwest lies at the mouth of the Elbow River. Wander through the trails that wind through the white spruce forest. Be sure to come prepared, as black bears have been spotted in the area.

Dog Friendly: yes, but be sure to make sure dogs are kept on leash at all times, as you may encounter wildlife.

Bowmont Park

This large natural environment park in the northwest of Calgary lies along the northern bank of the Bow River and features peaceful, meandering trails.

Dog Friendly: yes, and features designated off-leash areas.


Also, have you purchased your tickets to AIWC’s 25th anniversary celebration yet? Party like it’s 1993 and get your tickets here before they sell out!

A Tour of AIWC’s Enclosures

One of the most critical components to a successful rehabilitation and release of a wild animal in AWIC’s care is the enclosures we keep them in.

 When a patient is admitted, they are given a full examination by the vet and/or vet technicians on staff that day and usually placed in one of the smaller indoor enclosures.

 Our indoor enclosures range in size similar to a dog or cat kennel, all the way to the size of a small den or bedroom. The reason they are placed here is to allow AIWC staff to monitor their health, things like their eating behaviour, indifference, and overall condition, before placing them in one of the larger, outdoor enclosure for conditioning before release.

 Once patients are healthy and recovered enough to move to larger enclosures, they are placed in the appropriate outdoor enclosure for conditioning before being released back into the wild, usually in the same area they were found.

 In the last year, AIWC was fortunate to receive funding to construct several new enclosures for our patients.

 Through sponsorship by the Airdrie Rotary Club and Imperial Oil, we saw the construction of aerial insectivore enclosures, which are used for recovering bats, swallows and song birds. These enclosures housed several birds over the last season which were successfully released back into their natural habitats when they were fully recovered and ready.

Photo from inside aerial insectivore enclosure taken in February 2018. Song birds migrate south in the winter and are kept indoors if we have any in care during the winter. There are currently no patients in these enclosures.


Photo of a mountain bluebird in one of the outdoor insectivore enclosures taken in September of 2017.

 Inter Pipeline Ltd. sponsored an outdoor waterfowl enclosure and an outdoor aquatic mammal enclosure. The waterfowl enclosure will be the final stage of rehabilitation for water birds such as ducks, geese, swans, coots, and others. The outdoor aquatic mammal enclosure will be used for beavers, otters, muskrats and others.

View from outside of the outdoor waterfowl, aquatic mammal and aerial insectivore enclosures (left to right).

View from inside the outdoor waterfowl enclosure. The facilities are currently incomplete but once they are ready, will have pools that allow the patients to dive and mimic activities they would do in the wild.

 Shell Canada sponsored an enclosure for large mammals such as carnivorous mammals like foxes (photo not included in this blog).

 AIWC is looking forward to seeing these new enclosures in use in the upcoming busy season!

 We also have several older outdoor enclosures, such as the flight cage pictured below. The flight cage is used for large birds of prey to give them plenty of space to stretch their wings and get back into the air before being released.

View from outside the flight cage. The trees give a sense of how tall the flight cage is to allow birds of prey to take flight inside.


View from inside the flight cage. Several perches allow the patients to choose where they would like to rest between flights.

 AIWC has been open for nearly 25 years and as the needs of our patients grows, we will need to expand to grow with them and upkeep existing facilities. We have several other older outdoor enclosures with different purposes that were not featured in this blog.

 If you are interested in donating or have information on possible sponsor, we would love to hear from you! Additionally, we are hosting an event on Saturday, April 21 for our 25th Anniversary. For tickets to the event, please visit our website here: Proceeds from the event will go back to caring for wildlife admitted to AIWC.

By Tayler Lafreniere, AIWC Volunteer

Best of 2017

2017 was a big year for AIWC, with over 1,400 patients admitted to the centre for care.

As we have now transitioned into the second month 2018 (and our 25th year of being in operation) we thought we’d take this opportunity to look back and reflect on some of our favourite blog posts of 2017.

This post on Alberta’s Species at Risk classification system outlined the ways our province identifies threatened species.

This post highlighted one of Alberta’s most majestic species: the grizzly bear.

This post listed some good reminders on ways to ensure our own backyards aren’t harming wildlife.

In March of 2017, AIWC welcomed a mink patient for the first time in about ten years!

This post on ducklings and goslings was easily one of the cutest of 2017.

This post on Alberta’s most common bird species had us paying close attention to the skies!

This guided tour of Frank Lake has us packing up to pay this wetland a visit.

This post on swallows (and the amazing photos that accompanied it) was a favourite of 2017.

This post on making the most of your fall nature walks was a good reminder to get outside and enjoy all of Alberta’s four dramatic seasons.

This post introduced your neighbour who you’ve likely never met!

For those curious about a day in the life of an AIWC volunteer, this post is for you!

For those going a little stir-crazy, this post on wildlife games created a much needed diversion over the holidays.

We wish you all the best in 2018 and thank you for following along in our journey to aide Alberta’s injured and orphaned wildlife.

Winter Wildlife Reading

When the weather turns bitterly cold, there’s nothing better than finding a cozy spot and settling into a good book.

To get you through the rest of this cold spell, we’ve compiled a list of wildlife and nature-themed books that will chase away the winter doldrums!

The Inner Life of Animals by Peter Wohlleben

This book provides amazing insight into the emotions of the animals all around us. Did you know that ravens call their friends by name, and that rats regret bad choices? You’ll never look at an animal in the same way again.

Find it at the Calgary Library here, or on Amazon here.

White Fang by Jack London

If you grew up in Canada, chances are you had to read this book in grade school, but it’s a lovely read as an adult as well. While it’s not specifically about wildlife per se, it’s worth including on this list.

Find it at the Calgary Library here, or on Amazon here.

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien

In 1985, biologist Stacey O’Brien adopted an injured barn owl who could not survive on his own. Filled with insight into the behaviour and intelligence of owls, this book profiles the relationship between Wesley the owl and O’Brien.

Find it at the Calgary Library here, or on Amazon here.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

This stunning book examines the idea the forest is a social network and that trees communicate, support each other, and warn each other of impending danger. This book will forever change your future walks in the forest.

Find it at the Calgary Library here, or on Amazon here.

Animal Kingdom: Colour Me, Draw Me by Millie Marotta

To be fair, this one isn’t exactly a book you can sit down and read, but it’s worth getting your hands on anyway. This colouring book is geared towards adults, and each page is filled with intricate, gorgeous drawings just begging to be filled in.

Find it on Amazon here.

Scared Skunk by Michelle and Denver Suttie

No wildlife book list would be complete without mentioning AIWC’s first children’s book, which profiles a baby skunk who has lost her mother.

Find it on the AIWC store, here.

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Grizzly Bear

What are grizzly bears?

The grizzly bear (Ursus arctos horribilis) is a subspecies of brown bear found across North America. Varying in colour from blonde to almost black, Grizzly Bears usually have light brown fur accentuated by white-tipped or blondish fur on the back and rear, giving it the “grizzled” appearance they are partly named for (Wright 1909). Males of the species weigh between 130-180 kg depending on region and habitat, while females are usually around two thirds the weight of the male (AEP profile).

Grizzly bears are characterised by broad, “dished” faces and long snouts; rounded ears; and long white streaked claws whose prints show a “five to eight-centimeter gap ahead of the toe prints” (AEP profile).

Where are grizzly gears found?

Brown bears in general have the largest distribution of bear species worldwide, found in Asia, Europe and North America (Storer & Tevis 1996). The grizzly subspecies in particular was found from Alaska to Mexico but has dwindled in distribution in recent years. In Alberta, their current range includes areas in or near the Rocky Mountains, and in boreal areas of central and north-western Alberta (AEP profile).

Grizzly bears generally require large areas of land, due to a combination of social and ecological requirements, and tend to stick to the prairie and parkland (AEP profile).

In order to have full access to their primary food sources, grizzly bears require a wide range of seasonal habitats, from dry subalpine grasslands in spring to wet areas such as gullies, meadows and fens in summer. Grizzly gears hibernate through the winter, using dens dug into areas supported by large amounts of tree roots and shrubs, along with accumulated snow to provide insulation (AEP profile).

What is being done to protect the grizzly bear?

Grizzly bears are designated as “threatened” under Alberta’s Wildlife Act, due to its small breeding population size, and expected decline due to human activities (AEP profile).

The new Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan was drafted in 2016 and includes steps to aid the recovery of the existing populations such as strategies for “restoring habitat connectivity across highway corridors” (AGBRP 2007).

Wildlife corridors are stretches of natural habitat that connected two or more previously unconnected areas (after human development has separated the natural area) that allow for population distribution and gene flow (Bond, M. 2003).

The AGBRP (2016) also outlines a continuation and refinement of strategies to “reduce human-caused grizzly mortality; reduce human-grizzly conflict by managing food attractants; and to maintain access to secure habitats”.

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

One of the larger threats to grizzly bear populations is human-caused mortality, with the four highest sources listed as poaching, accidental collisions with highway vehicles or trains, self-defence kills and hunters misidentifying grizzly bears as black bears.

Increasing public awareness of grizzly inhabited areas and what to do if you encounter one is likely the most influential way of reducing human caused mortality of grizzlies. Being careful of food attractants is also important, as bears that wander into built-up human areas put themselves and humans at risk. Bears that find food sources in human areas will usually become habituated and seek out further food sources in the same area, leading to necessary relocation or unfortunately destruction of the Bear if no other options are available (Wildsmart).

There are plans such as the Wildsmart program that removes both natural and unnatural food attractants from human settlement areas in order to provide safer areas for bears to find food.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer


Alberta Environment and Parks (2016). Alberta Grizzly Bear Recovery Plan,. Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan No. 38. Edmonton, AB. 85pp.

Storer, T.I. & Tevis, L.P. (1996). California Grizzly. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. p. 335

Wright, William Henry (1909). The Grizzly Bear: The Narrative of a Hunter-Naturalist, Historical, Scientific and Adventurous.

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Bird Calls, Songs and Mimicry

Imagine growing up in isolation. Not learning language from your parents or any other people. How well do you think you would be able to communicate with other people? Probably not very well, right? What about birds: are their vocalizations learned, or are they inherited? Development of “language” in birds is fairly complex. When raised in captivity without their natural parents to learn their proper vocalizations from, many bird species sing very simple fragments of their whole songs, suggesting that language in most birds is partly innate, or known, and partly learned from their parents (Boswell 2012). We also know that most adolescent songbirds require a “tutor” to learn their songs from (Vallentin et al 2016). There are some species of birds within the Suboscine family, however, that have an innate ability to know their species’ song (John 2017).

You may have noticed that song birds produce melodic “songs”, while they also produce shorter “calls”. Songs tend to be longer and more complex vocalizations that are mostly produced by males during the breeding season in North America (Catchpole and Slater 2003). In the tropics and some areas in Europe, females also tend to sing and singing is not restricted to the breeding season (Catchpole and Slater 2003). Calls are shorter and simpler vocalizations that are produced by both male and female birds throughout the year (Catchpole and Slater 2003). Calls tend to be related to actions of the bird, such as flying, sensing danger, or threatening other birds, for example.

A recent study found that some songbirds are able to adapt their songs when they are surrounded by heavy traffic noises. They are able to sing at a different frequency than the noise of traffic. This may appear to be beneficial in their ability to still call out to a potential mate, however, their song sounds less natural, and a female may not respond as strongly (Gentry 2017). Songs that were altered to overcome traffic noises were often shorter in length and males producing shorter songs may have less success defending territory and therefore, a lower chance of successfully finding a mate (John 2017).

Other than songs and calls, some birds practice “mimicry”. Corvids (crows, magpies, bluejays, Steller’s Jay, to name a few) are examples of Canadian birds that mimic noises they hear in their environments. The sounds included in a bird’s vocalizations depends on the noises in its surrounding environment, meaning that birds of the same species may not mimic the same sound if they are not exposed to it (Mayntz 2017). The lyrebirds is an example of a bird that can nearly identically mimic sounds such as chainsaws, car alarms – you name it! However, these birds are exotic and do not live within in Canada. If we know that the purpose of calls are for actions of the birds making them, and songs are to attract mates, what is the purpose of mimicry? Mimicry can be used to impress a mate, to protect the nest or food source by producing the noise of a predator or threat calls of other birds, to defend a territory, for social acceptance within a group of other birds, or they could be accidentally learned in cases such as car alarms or non-natural mechanical sounds (Mayntz 2017).

It’s still winter in Canada, so the next time you’re out for a walk, pay attention to the calls the birds are making, since they are likely not preparing for mating season just yet. You’re likely to see chickadees and nuthatches in the treed areas around Calgary at this time of year. Ask yourself the following question to try and analyze the vocalizations the birds are making: Are both males and females making the same noises? Do they make calls when larger or predatory birds are nearby? Do they make calls when they have found a food source? Do they make calls to chase away other birds in their vicinity?

When the spring time comes and you find yourself out birding, or on a walk, pay closer attention to the birds that you see and the songs they are making. What are the birds doing? Is the bird a male, and is he only singing in one location, possibly his territory? Does another male bird, possibly a competitor, respond with the same song? Are any females gathering nearby? Does he stop singing when a female joins him?

Also, pay closer attention to crows and magpies. They tend to get a bad rap and people often view them in a bad light or ignore them altogether. They really are fascinating birds though, and can often be heard mimicking their surroundings, such as making the noise of a water drop. Have you heard them mimic anything else in their surrounding environment?

At AIWC, we strive to help any injured or orphaned wildlife in our care. If you would like to help us be able to care for any call-makers, song-makers, or mimickers, please visit our donation page here. Every bit helps ensure their return to the wild, where they can keep vocalizing!

Author’s note: I am by no means an expert ornithologist, nor am I an expert in bird vocalizations. I find the topic very interesting and wanted to share the information that I’ve found on the topic.

By Tayler Lafreniere, AIWC Volunteer


Boswell, J. 2012. How birds learn their songs. Available at: Accessed January 15, 2018.

Catchpole, C.K., and P.J.B. Slater. 2003. Bird Song: Biological Themes and Variations. Cambridge University Press. Second Edition.

Gentry, K. E., McKenna, M.F., and Luther D.A. 2017. Evidence of suboscine song plasticity in response to traffic noise fluctuations and temporary road closures. Bioacoustics.

John, J. 2017. Birds change song to be heard above traffic noise. The Wildlife Society. Available at: Accessed January 15, 2018.

Vallentin, D., Kosche, G., Lipkind, D., and Long, M.A. 2016. Inhibition protects acquired song segments during vocal learning in zebra finches. Science; 351:6270; Pp. 267 – 271.

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