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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

References

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/mammals/bears/grizzly-bear.aspx

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

http://www.wildsmart.ca/programs/attractant_management.htm

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

References:

Boswell, J. 2012. How birds learn their songs. Available at: https://www.bl.uk/the-language-of-birds/articles/how-birds-learn-their-songs. 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: http://wildlife.org/birds-change-song-to-be-heard-above-traffic-noise/. 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.

Winter Prep and Survival Hacks Used by Alberta’s Wildlife

With winter now in full swing in Alberta, sightings of wildlife this time of year may be rarer than usual. But what do animals do during the winter? Do they all either hibernate or fly south for the entire season? If you’ve ever found yourself asking these questions, fear not: AIWC has tracked down the information on what certain animals do to prepare for and tough out the coldest season of the year.

For the birds

While a bird’s feathers provide essential insulation during the winter months, its high metabolism prohibits it from hibernating during cold months. Depending on the availability of local food and shelter resources, some species may be able to thrive in a given location, while others may have to flying south for the winter in order to survive the season.

Among the list of species who migrate to warmer climes during the winter are the snowy owl, the piping plover, the red-winged blackbird, and the snow goose. The blue jay, the evening grosbeak, and the great horned owl are just a few of the species that round out the list of birds that stick around during the winter thanks to evolutionary advantages that help them thrive on even the coldest of days.

Sleeping with the fishes

Fish are ectothermic animals, which means that they do not produce their own body heat and instead rely on their environment to regulate their body temperatures. In the winter, this means that a fish’s body temperature matches that of the surrounding water that may even be frozen on top.

During colder months when lakes and streams may seem frozen solid, fish will remain in a prolonged state of minimal activity and dormancy, which slows their metabolism and reduces their need to eat during a time when food is normally scarce.

Seeking warmth for the warm-blooded

Because mammals are warm-blooded – or endothermic – they need to sustain their metabolisms in order to maintain a body temperature that’s conducive to winter survival. One winter survival tactic of certain mammals is hibernation, wherein an animal’s body temperature drops and its metabolism, heart rate, and breathing slows to preserve energy throughout colder months. Only a few mammals have sufficient fat stored up to make hibernation a viable option for weathering winter, but animals such as chipmunks, woodchucks, brown bats, and black bears are some of the few who turn winter into a lovely, long nap.

For the mammals that can’t hibernate, winter survival options branch off in two ways: to migrate a short distance to more sheltered areas, or to stay put and adapt to their surroundings. Certain species of caribou typically migrate from the tundra to dense forests, while some bats migrate to more protected areas such as buildings or caves.

Meanwhile, for mammals that stay put for the season, evolution is on their side with various life-saving attributes that can range from seasonally-grown thicker fur or comparably larger feet that help them tread on snow efficiently. Seasonal changes to animals’ diets also provide nourishment where it normally wouldn’t be found. For example, the red fox has adapted to eat small mammals during the winter’s absence of berries and insects, while animals like beavers and grey squirrels plan ahead and store food for winter consumption.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer

Sources:

Hinterland Who’s Who www.hww.ca, January 1, 2017: http://www.hww.ca/en/issues-and-topics/wildlife-in-winter.html

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Burrowing Owl

What are Burrowing Owls?

Burrowing owls (Athene cunicularia) are a small species of owl distributed across select regions of North and South America (Alberta Burrowing Owl Recovery Plan 2012-2017). Approximately 9 inches long, they are differentiated from more typical owl species in that they are most active during the day, and get their name from the burrows that they nest in.

Burrowing owls do not make these burrows themselves, but instead rely on prairie animals such as prairie dogs to create the burrows, which the owls will use once they have been abandoned by their previous occupants (Recovery Plan 2012-2017).

Burrowing owls have also developed longer legs than other owl species, and these are useful in sprinting to catch prey, primarily large insects and small rodents (AEP profile).

The burrowing owl in Alberta has been classified as “at risk” by the current General Status of Alberta Wild Species report.

Where are Burrowing Owls found?

While the majority of the range of the burrowing owl in North America is based in the United States, around 4% of the wild population is found in Western Canada, as the subspecies Athene cunicularia hypugaea (Recovery Plan 2012-2017), and is listed as “endangered” at the National level.

Generally, Canadian burrowing owls are found in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, where its breeding range has been steadily shrinking. They can also be found in limited populations in Manitoba and British Columbia, where the terrain is appropriate.

Because burrowing owls are migratory, the Alberta population generally spends the winter season in the southern United States and Mexico. This is important in terms of conserving the Alberta population, as changes in mortality factors and habitat outside of Alberta can contribute to a decline in numbers (Environment Canada 2010).

What is being done to protect the Burrowing Owl?

In Alberta, burrowing owl populations have shown a steep decline due to changes in habitat, wintering factors outside of Alberta, and human disturbance (Recovery Plan 2012-2017).

In 2006, the burrowing owl in Alberta was designated as “endangered”, up from the previous “threatened” status, based on the reduced distribution in the province, along with a small overall population size across both Canada and the United States (Recovery Plan 2012-2017). This designation makes it illegal to harvest or traffic the burrowing owl, or to disturb the nesting sites or burrows, under the Alberta Wildlife Act.

The long-term goal of the Alberta Burrowing Owl Recovery Plan for 2012 to 2017 is to “increase the population of Burrowing Owl in Alberta to viable, naturally self-sustaining levels, well-distributed along its range”. To achieve this, the plan has three short-term goals: To increase the burrowing owl population in Alberta to 400-600 pairs by 2017; to stabilize distribution of the current range of burrowing owl, eventually restoring them to natural levels, and to maintain, increase and enhance habitats for burrowing owls in Alberta (Recovery Plan 2012-2017).

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

Economic expansion and the transformation of natural prairie land in Alberta is likely the biggest factor in the reduction of the burrowing owl population. In addition, it has been found that pesticides (used for invertebrates and small mammals) are indirectly affecting burrowing owl populations that feed on these small animals (Recovery Plan 2012-2017).

As always, public knowledge and landowner stewardship play an important role in the conservation of the species that reside in Alberta, while stabilization of agricultural grazing resources land stewardship may provide further habitat restoration and recreational use for the general public as well.

If you want to get involved in the burrowing owl conservation efforts, spreading knowledge (such as by newspaper articles and blog posts) is a good way to start. Getting in touch with city councils to attend planning agendas and the Burrowing Owl Conservation Network are also ways to help. Activities such as Canada’s Christmas Bird Count (http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/) relies on volunteer input to collect wildlife surveys, and are always looking for more people to help.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development. 2012. Alberta Burrowing Owl Recovery Plan 2012-2017. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Resource Development, Alberta Recovery Plan No. 21, Edmonton, AB. 27pp.

http://aep.alberta.ca/fish-wildlife/wild-species/birds/owls/burrowing-owl.aspx

Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council. 2016. Wild Species 2015: The General Status of Species in Canada. National General Status Working Group: 128pp.

Environment Canada. 2010. Recovery Strategy for the Burrowing Owl in Canada. Species At Risk Act Recovery Strategy Series. Environment Canada, Ottawa. Viii + 33pp.

http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

Wildlife Games for the Holidays

Today’s blog is a little bit of a departure from our informational or educational blogs. Today, we want to focus on the importance of educating children about wildlife. Studies have shown that children learn new topics and remember information easier than adults do (BBC 2006).

By educating younger generations on the importance of caring for our wildlife, we can help create a strong foundation for the future. Children who are taught the importance of respecting and helping wildlife will be more empathetic towards wildlife issues throughout their lives.

So how can you get children involved with wildlife? Why not play some fun games involving animals this holiday season?!

Below is a list of games we have compiled for families of all ages to enjoy over the holidays.

Road Trip Bingo Cards

    We’ve created 5 different bingo cards for you to save and print out (simply click on the follow links).

WildlifeBingo_Sheet1 WildlifeBingo_Sheet2 WildlifeBingo_Sheet3 WildlifeBingo_Sheet4 WildlifeBingo_Sheet5

    These are great if you’re driving between cities over the holiday season and want to give your kids an interactive game.

Animal Charades

    This game could be for the entire family.

    Split into two teams and try to guess what animal each person is acting as using noises and actions.

    Just write different animal types onto pieces of paper, place in a bowl or hat or mug, and start acting!

    You could use any animals, be we’ve compiled a short list of animals found in Alberta:

   Mammals (deer, porcupine, beaver, moose).

   Birds (snowy owl, crow, magpie, bald eagle, screech owl, pygmy owl, red-tailed hawk, duck, Canada goose, swan, loon, chickadee, gull, great-horned own).

   Aquatic (fish, frog, salamander).

Musical Chairs

    Play musical chairs as usual, but when a player is “out”, they must make the sound of their favourite animal and everyone else has to guess what it is.

Draw an Animal

    It could even be as simple as providing your kids with colouring utensils and paper, and having them draw their favourite animal we’ve had at AIWC this past year. Just pop on over to our Instagram page to choose an animal!

 Christmas Bird Count

    For the older kids and adults who are somewhat experienced at identifying birds in their areas.

    This is a yearly tradition that’s been around since 1900!

    The Christmas Bird Count is exactly what it sounds like: count and identify birds in your specific area.

    There are several locations across Canada that have organized bird counts between December 17 and January 4.

    Check the Bird Studies Canada site to get more information and find a count near you: http://www.birdscanada.org/volunteer/cbc/

If games aren’t your thing, we have several items in our gift shop to help get kids involved and learn about wildlife. Keep in mind for your next occasion that we have items such as our children’s book, The Scared Skunk, and several stuffed animals to represent those we often have in care at AIWC. All proceeds go to helping orphaned and injured wildlife admitted to AIWC.

Do you have any wildlife games that you’d like to share? Comment below!

By Tayler Lafreniere, AIWC Volunteer

References:

BBC News. 2006. Why the young learn more easily. Available online at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/6172048.stm. Accessed December 18, 2017.

Surviving Alberta’s Winters

With the first day of winter only two days away, it’s the perfect time of year to do cozy activities indoors. But what about those creatures who don’t have a heated, warm home to relax in? How do they cope with the frigid weather?

In order to survive Alberta’s harsh winters, many creatures enter a state of energy conservation that allows them to slow down their body so that they can survive the winter, when food is scarce.

There are three types of hibernation: true hibernation, brumation and torpor.

True hibernation is characterized by slow breathing, a low heart rate, a low metabolic rate and body temperature. An animal in true hibernation will not wake up if there is a loud noise, or if they are touched. Groundhogs and certain bats typically go into true hibernation.

Brumation is a state similar to hibernation that reptiles and amphibians enter when the weather turns cool. Creatures in brumation may wake up to drink water and shift positions, before returning to sleep. The Northern leopard frog is an example of an animal that goes into brumation (Nature Canada).

Torpor is a light form of hibernation. Torpor lasts for short periods of time, allowing animals to wake up during warmer days. While many believe that bears go into true hibernation, they only go into torpor (Science World).

Some animals are so well-adapted to the cold that they can survive the winter without going into hibernation or torpor. Beavers, for example, use the insulating snow to their advantage, and grow thicker coats in the winter. Moose work hard in the autumn to store large quantities of fat and conserve their energy by moving as little as possible (Nature Canada).

Be sure to take advantage of this beautiful season and get outside and experience Alberta’s majestic winter, and the next time you do, pay attention! You never know who, or what, may be resting cozily nearby!

Resources:

“How Canadian Wildlife Survives Winter” www.naturecanada.ca, December 18, 2017: http://www.discoverwildlife.com/british-wildlife/how-tell-torpor-hibernation

“Do bears actually hibernate?” www.scienceworld.ca, December 18, 2017: https://www.scienceworld.ca/blog/do-bears-actually-hibernate

An AIWC Holiday Gift Guide

The holidays are fast approaching and the crunch to buy that perfect gift is definitely on for some shoppers. And while shopping online and at the local mall are obvious destinations, we at AIWC think our online store can be your new one-stop shop for all your gifting needs this season. Not only does our store offer a variety of great gifts, each purchase made in our online store helps support our efforts to save and protect Alberta’s wildlife.

If you’re in the market for gifts that do some good, look no further than our handy gift guide that will in turn make an animal’s days merry and bright.

  • For the bookworm in your life: You know the type – they’re much more likely to have their nose in a book than they are to be parked in front of the TV, and they can spend hours wandering around any given book store. Regardless of their age, if you know a book-lover who also happens to love animals, the Scared Skunk book is the perfect gift for them. A true story about an orphaned skunk who encounters dangerous litter and eventually gets the help it needs, this book packs a punch with its illustrations, fun trivia, and charitable donation (with 100% of proceeds benefitting AIWC’s efforts).
  • For the animal lover who can’t have a pet: Whether it’s because they live in an apartment in the city, or they suffer from allergies, we all know an animal lover who would like nothing more than to have a furry friend in their home. This season, you can help make that a reality by giving them the gift of symbolic adoption. With a variety of adorable plush animals to choose from – including a red fox, a beaver, and a moose that each come with a symbolic adoption certificate – your loved one can adopt an adorable plushy while knowing that the net proceeds from each plushy sale helps fund AIWC’s rescuing efforts. These also make great gifts for kids of all ages!
  • For the person who’s impossible to shop for: Maybe they have really esoteric tastes, or maybe they seem to have everything they could ever want. Regardless of the reason why, if you know someone who’s difficult to shop for, AIWC is here to help. By sponsoring an animal in their name, you’ll be able to share the love for a deserving AIWC patient with a thoughtful, altruistic gift that’s unlike any other they’ll receive this season. It’s a total win-win situation!
  • For the person who hates clutter: If you know someone who’s minimalistic in both style and attitude, you know all too well that they’re incredibly hard to shop for because you know that whatever they receive this holiday season will soon be re-gifted to the nearest thrift store to reduce their home’s clutter level. Luckily, AIWC’s got you covered with low-clutter gift ideas that range from charitable donations and memberships to wall calendars and toques.

By Giselle Wedemire, AIWC Volunteer

Alberta Wildlife Recoveries: Greater Sage Grouse

What are greater sage grouse?

Greater sage grouse (Centrocercus urophasiansus urophasianus) are a species of grouse (a member of the Galliformes order; related to chickens and turkeys) that gets its name from the sagebrush prairies they inhabit. The greater sage grouse is the largest grouse species in North America, and they are distinguished by their rounded wings, long pointed tails and a mixture of brownish-black plumage with white/gray patches on their abdomen (Schroeder et al 1999).

Where are they found?

In Canada, they are usually found in silver sagebrush (Artemesia cana) ranges, specifically in the mixed-grass regions of southern Alberta. While their historic range was once more extensive, the sage grouse population now resides in a 4,000 square kilometre area centred south and east of the hamlet of Manyberries (Alberta Sage Grouse Recovery Plan 2013) and the sage grouse is currently listed as endangered under the Alberta Wildlife Act.

The sage grouse’s habitat selection has been shown to be dependant on local factors such as availability of nesting and brood locations, and nearby leks (open, relatively flat areas that males use to display for prospective mates) (Petersen 1980).

What is being done to protect the greater sage grouse?

In 2005, a provincial recovery plan for the greater sage grouse in Alberta was drafted with the goals of both “enhancing and maintaining habitat for sage grouse to satisfy life-cycle requirements in support of a viable population within its historic range” and to “achieve recovery of the sage grouse population to a level that provides for sustainable recreational viewing and hunting”.

However, this plan was reviewed in 2013, as the population was still declining. The previous goals were thus considered to be long term targets, and new short-term goals were implemented in the recovery plan of 2013 to complete these goals, including the restoration of sage grouse habitat, through increased land use standards and stewardship; reclamation of potential land areas; and predator management. These goals seek to achieve a positive trend in sage grouse active leks by 2018 (Alberta Sage Grouse Recovery Plan 2013).

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

According to the Alberta Sage Grouse Recovery Plan (2013), the greatest limiting factor in increasing the sage grouse populations is the reduction in suitable sagebrush habitats. Human activity and land development are the biggest contributor to habitat change so reducing these impacts or perhaps ensuring that they are adequately controlled or legislated may do a great deal in helping to preserve the populations already present in fragmented habitats.

As is usually the case with endangered or at-risk species, the best way the general public can help is by raising awareness. Landowners are also encouraged to care for potential habitat usage and stewardship programs, with help from governmental and conservation organisations.

By Jonathan Poll, AIWC Volunteer

References

Alberta Environment and Sustainable Research Development. (2013). Alberta Greater Sage Grouse recovery plan 2013-2018. Alberta Environment and Sustainable Research Development, Alberta Species at Risk Recovery Plan no .30. Edmonton, AB. 46pp.

Petersen, B.E. (1980). Breeding and nesting ecology of female Sage Grouse, in North Park, Colorado. M.S Thesis, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, CO. 86pp.

Schroeder, M.A., et al. (1999). Sage Grouse (Centrocercus urophasianus) in: The Birds of North America, Number 425. (A. Pool and F. Gill, eds.) American Ornithologists Union, Washington, D.C., Academy of Natural Sciences, Philadelphia, P.A.

Photo Credit: Alberta Environment and Parks

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

Sources:

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

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