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Gulliver, Education Ambassador, 2013-2016

Gulliver, or Gully as he was usually called, was admitted as a kit (baby skunk) in summer 2013.

He was found all alone outside a yoga studio in Calgary. It was evident the moment he arrived
that he was a very special animal.

It soon became clear that this little skunk kit would not be suited to a life in the wild – he relied
on humans too much and was very (too) friendly with people.

After careful review, the decision was made for Gully to become an AIWC education
ambassador. Education ambassadors play an important role at AIWC, helping educate the
public about the hazards wildlife face. Gulliver’s Travels became the title for the many trips
Gully took each year as an AIWC representative.

Gully has been a cherished member of the family at AIWC, and it is with great sadness that we
announce his passing on December 17th, 2016. We will forever miss him and his rambunctious

Gully was incredibly smart; he knew when you had food in your bag, and would pretend to
give you kisses so he could smell what you may have eaten that day (such a charmer!). He loved
having fresh towels and blankets to make his own bed/nest at night, and he especially enjoyed
a little game he’d invented, where he’d hop on a towel and have you pull him across the floor.

Skunks are some of the most misunderstood wildlife in Alberta, yet they fill such an important role in our ecosystem. Gully impacted the lives of all he met and he was able to help distill the fear and misconceptions so common with his species.

Thank you, Gully, for all you did. We love and miss you so much.

By H. Duvall, Executive Director AIWC


Skunks have bold white stripes down their backs and most are about the size of a house cat. They have fairly small heads, short legs and bushy tails. They use their sharp claws for digging.

Although Skunks usually give some warning signs such as stomping, hissing or charging before they spray, they discharge a foul-smelling fluid from glands located at the base of their tail when they feel threatened. Their spray can reach as far as 3 metres and can be aimed pretty accurately!

These nocturnal mammals are easiest to find in the summer months. They inhabit farmlands, grasslands and forests, making use of abandoned woodchuck or fox dens and occasionally creating their own from scratch. Urban-dwelling skunks often make homes under porches or in sheds, finding small areas for permanent homes.

While skunks aren’t true hibernators, they are fairly inactive during cold winter months. While they are usually independent, they share dens to stay warm, cuddling up just like people do when it’s cold!

Skunks munch on all sorts of things! They are omnivores and enjoy eating insects and small animals like mice and ground squirrels. Some of they’re favourite meals are grasshoppers, crickets and insect larvae. Sounds pretty yucky to us, but makes for a delicious skunk lunch!

Baby skunks, or kits, are usually born in May in litters of 4 to 6 and sometimes more. By two months old, their mother starts to wean them and takes them outside the den to hunt and scavenge for food on their own. Most of them will return to their mother’s den for their first winter.

AIWC cares for A LOT of skunks! By early October 2016, 83 striped skunks had been admitted, and most of them were kits. That was an increase of 176% since 2014!

“Scared Skunk” is a children’s book created for AIWC by Michelle and Denver Suttie and was launched in October 2016.The kindergarten to grade 3 level book helps kids grow their love and appreciation of Alberta’s wildlife! It can be purchased online or at:

* Wildbird General Store in Edmonton

* Purearth Organics in Red Deer

* Deja Brew in Cochrane

* Yamnuska Wolfdog Sanctuary in Cochrane

*The Wild Bird Store in Calgary

100% of proceeds are donated to AIWC!

Every year, most of us set goals or make silent pacts to ourselves that this will be the year we make some changes! Personal improvements aside, volunteering with or donating to AWIC is one way to make a meaningful, lasting change that helps wildlife right here in your province. Purchase Scared Skunk for a little one, or get involved with AWIC to start off the year with a giving heart.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer




Five Benefits of Volunteering with AIWC

Are you looking for a way to give back? Do you love wildlife? Would a few more skills help round out your resume? Consider volunteering with the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation! Volunteers are our most valuable asset, but contributing your time also offers many benefits to you.

  1. Learning and skill development

Volunteering with AIWC creates ongoing learning opportunities for even seasoned naturalists and often requires out-of-the-box thinking. Some animals need to be hand fed while in care which requires patience and dexterity. Other animals are escape artists and new visual or physical barricades will need to be installed to keep them safe while they recover. Additionally, staff often require assistance while treating patients providing volunteers with the chance to learn about different bone structures, physical features, and adaptations of a variety of wildlife. Each day offers different challenges at AIWC for volunteers to learn from and grow.

  1. Looks good on a resume

Whether you’re just starting your career, changing directions, or returning to work after some time away, volunteering with AIWC can give your resume a boost! Taking on responsibilities within the centre or supporting the organization through writing, administrative assistance, fundraising initiatives or event promotion can all enhance your resume and provide skills a potential employer would value.

  1. Meet likeminded people

Despite living in an increasingly social world where everything is shared online, it can still be difficult to meet people who share similar interests in real life. AIWC offers volunteers a place to collaborate on projects, to meet a mentor and to build friendships. Many volunteers have been with the centre for years and have developed lasting relationships with other volunteers and the education ambassadors.

  1. Support the next generation of naturalists

Education is one of AIWC’s priorities. Volunteers help to teach children and youth about wildlife and conservation efforts by visiting classrooms and libraries, offering support at booths and helping to host on-site talks and tours of the centre offered to the public throughout the year.

5. Help wildlife

Most importantly, volunteering with AIWC gives you the opportunity to directly aid orphaned, injured, and oiled wildlife by giving of your time. This offers an invaluable resource to the centre and its patients.

If you would like to get involved with AIWC, please consider volunteering your time. Alternatively, monetary and in-kind donations are always welcome and help support AIWC’s ongoing efforts for wildlife rehabilitation.

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Voluteer

Natural Instinct

Statistics show over 60% of North American households has at least one companion animal in their home.

In homes all over the world companion animals are thought of and treated as one of the family. Households invest a ton of time and money on the healthiest foods and snacks, stimulating toys, fluffy beds, the safest enclosures, and the best daycare available.

The majority of homes have dogs and cats as a companion animal however, modern households have many other kinds of animals living in their homes. Hamsters, birds, fish, lizards, bunnies, snakes, and a variety of other animals are loved by families as their fur/feather/scale/etc babies.

Depending on the kind of animal that families have in their household, there are many things that need to be considered. Animals of all kinds require adequate housing, nutrition, nurturing, enrichment and training to keep them healthy and safe within the home. For example, cats require specific climbing equipment and stimulating activities, birds require enclosures with a proper perching spot, and dogs require specific training and guidance. They all require comfort, respect and love to help them thrive.

When the care mentioned above  is absent, companion animals may show stress by clawing the furniture, defecating  in places they shouldn’t or by becoming quiet and reclusive or fearful or aggressive. When this happens chaos ensues and the home becomes neither safe nor enjoyable for anyone.

As we take care of companion animals and provide them with the physical needs and training necessary to live happily ever after in our homes, they still maintain their natural instincts. We train our dogs to come, sit, stay and much more. Many learn what is being asked of them, however each breed will have a tendency toward their specific natural abilities. For example, a retriever will sit and stay but the second they are allowed to move they will be looking for something to retrieve.

Song birds will sing, cats will stalk, lizards will sit on a warm rock, and fish will continue to swim around their tanks. These special abilities and natural instincts are built into each animal from the beginning to support the survival of their species. Animals can be taught certain behaviours, however, natural instinct remains in each and every animal.

Although there are many different animals that people are able to care for as part of their family, there is a world full of animals that belong only in the wild. Each with their own set of instincts needed for their health and survival.

For example, If a fawn is kidnapped and brought home to live with someone who thinks the fawn is orphaned, the fawn will not be getting the proper nutrition required to grow up strong and healthy, and will miss out on the necessary training she would have received from her mother when living in the wild. The fawn will become habituated and  grow up not understanding the dangers of living in the wild, making her unable to take care of herself once the person who took her realised that the fawn had become too large to care for and keep safely.

Deer can grow to anywhere between 54 and 136 kilograms and their natural instinct is to either run or fight when they feel threatened in any way. When their natural instinct kicks in they can cause injury and possibly death to anyone near.

Don’t try to help or rehabilitate wild animals on your own. If you find an animal in need of help please contact Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation and we will be happy to provide assistance.

Let’s work together to continue to care for Alberta’s wildlife.

By Tracey Paluck, AIWC Volunteer

Animal Enrichment

What is animal enrichment?

  • Enrichment can refer to the behavioural or environmental enhancement of an animal’s surroundings while in captive care. Enrichment is an attempt to improve the physiological and psychological well-being of animals in care.

How does AIWC provide enrichment?

When animals are brought into AIWC, they are often coming in from high-stress situations and showing signs of that stress. Since wildlife does not tend to favour interactions with people, there is minimal contact with patients once they are in AIWC’s care, other than for feeding, medical intervention or rehabilitation. This helps to reduce the amount of stress on the patients, as well as to keep them wild by avoiding any kind of imprinting or habitualization from occuring.

AIWC tries to minimize the amount of stress on the patients in care, and one way of doing this is by enriching their environment. Some examples of enrichment include:

  1. Scattering or hiding food throughout an enclosure for an animal to forage can provide stimulation and enrichment.
  2. Providing a lonely patient with some comfort by using a mirror. Mirrors are often placed in enclosures with song birds, or baby ducks that come in alone or are very few in number.
  3. Giving baby patients like robins and ducklings a stuffed animal that looks similar to them or their parents as a way to give them familiarity.
  4. Providing patients with enrichment items such as trees to perch or climb. (Enrichment items like trees also gives patients places to hide when staff or volunteers enter their enclosures to provide food or to clean, thereby minimising patient stress).
  5. Providing not only a nutritional diet but one that includes a mixture of several different types of food that are not always the same from meal to meal, making it interesting and stimulating for the patient too.

It is not always possible for all patients to receive environmental enrichment immediately due to many factors. For example, if a patient is badly injured, it may not be beneficial to have additional items in their enclosures for risk of further injury. However, once they have physically recovered they are moved to larger enclosures, and these enclosures tend to have items such as trees, perches, tubs of water to bathe in, or areas of dirt to roll in.

Enrichment is something that people provide for their own companion animals (think of the last treat you gave your dog or cat, or the last toy they played with), all with the end-goal of making them happy. At AIWC, we try to keep our patients happy through enrichment!

How can you help?

  • You might be wondering if there is any way you can help AIWC provide enrichment to our patients, and there is! AIWC has a wish list of items that gets updated often. You can find it here:
  • As a non-profit organization, any donation helps. If you do not have the means to provide a monetary donation, there may be items on our list that you have at home but don’t need to keep anymore. We are always happy to accept these items!
  • Christmas is a great time of year for AIWC because after the decorations come down, you can donate your real Christmas tree to us! Real trees that are donated become much-loved environmental stimuli for AIWC patients.

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer


Honolulu Zoo Society. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: Accessed December 19, 2016.

Toronto Zoo. 2016. Animal Enrichment. Available online at: Accessed December 19, 2016.


Season’s Greetings

As 2016 comes to a close, we look back on the past year and reflect on all of the challenges and successes to help us plan ahead for 2017.

Highlights of the Year:

  • We have said “hello” to new staff:
    • I am extremely happy to welcome onboard: Michelle, our Development and Communications Coordinator, Miranda, our Senior Wildlife Rehabilitator, and Katrina, our Education and Community Engagement Coordinator.
  • We were fortunate to receive $100,000 from the Government of Alberta through their Community Facility Enhancement Program. This funding was assigned to our mortgage as debt reduction support. Over the coming years we aim to transform the house on AIWC’s property into an education centre.
  • AIWC’s first children’s book, Scared Skunk written by authors Michelle and Denver Suttie, was launched! Scared Skunk is a perfect fit for children in grades K to 4, however, anyone at any age can learn from its true story and interesting skunk facts.
  • Two volunteer orientation sessions were held with 40 new volunteers recruited. In 2015, volunteers donated over 10,000 hours to our organization, fulfilling a variety of roles such as: wildlife rehabilitation assistant, rescue driver, hotline responder, fundraising, and construction/site maintenance.
  • 3,850 individuals were reached through our education program. Through outreach programming, we’re working to creating strong co-existence between Albertans and wildlife.
  • A video of the baby beaver we have in care went viral in July on social media. It has since reached over 15 million people worldwide! The beaver kit continues to do well in care and hasn’t let fame get to him/her 😉
  • In April, the board of directors and staff met to work on a strategic plan for the organization for the next 4 years. During this session, AIWC’s vision and mission were re-written. These are the guiding forces for everything we accomplish at AIWC, and they are as follows:

Vision: Every Wildlife Matters.

Mission: AIWC is committed to the rescue, rehabilitation, and release of injured and orphaned wildlife. We provide expert advice and education that fosters an appreciation of wildlife.

  • Over 500 animals were released back into the wild where they belong!

This year has brought a large increase in the numbers of animals admitted to our centre. We attribute some of this to more awareness about AIWC, but also that human/animal encounters, and conflicts, are rising.

In 2015, we admitted 1,675 animals. 2016 has not yet come to a close and already we have admitted nearly 1,900 animals. 95%of the animals 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.

As the demand for our services increase, so does the pressure to ensure funding to keep AIWC operational now and in the future. Thank you for your wonderful support, and for generously contributing crucial funds to directly help wildlife.

It all comes down to this:

“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.


Thank you for your continued support of AIWC.



Holly Duvall
Executive Director.

Snowy Owls


With the snowy weather, it seems appropriate to talk about the aptly named snowy owl whose colouring provides excellent camouflage for our northern climate.

Snowy owls, Quebec’s provincial bird, are found across the northern hemisphere and throughout Alberta. Their range extends from the Arctic Circle, where they breed north of the 60th parallel in the summer, to as far south as Texas in the winter. Unlike many other owl species that are generally active at night, snowy owls are acclimatised to hunting throughout the day. This is because their summer range in the circumpolar region features periods of 24-hour daylight for several weeks to months around June 21, depending on the latitude.

Snowy owls typically need between seven and twelve mice-sized meals per day to remain healthy and may catch up to 1,500 additional meals each year to feed their chicks. Lemmings are a main staple in the snowy owl diet, but they have been known to eat foxes, ducks, hares, mice, and voles.

Snowy owls have few natural predators but are well-equipped with their large talons and swift flight to ward off marauding foxes that might attempt to prey on their chicks.

They build shallow nests scraped into knolls or high ridges in the tundra in spring.

If you’d like to learn more about Alberta’s wildlife, book a wildlife education program for your school group. If you’d like to support AIWC’s current patients, consider donating something from our Wish List, or purchase a set of AIWC Christmas cards to send to your loved ones to let them know about AIWC’s rehabilitation hospital as well as local wildlife!

By Stephanie Ruddock, AIWC Volunteer


The Cornell Laboratory of Birds, All About Birds, Snow Owl.

Hinterland’s Who’s Who. Snowy Owl.

Porcupine Pals

It’s unlikely that you’ve seen one of these spiky critters bumbling around, since porcupines are nocturnal and tend to avoid humans at all costs.

If you were to run into a porcupine though, you might find them in treed areas, chewing on soft bark or even munching on crops in fields.

Porcupines like to live in caves, hollowed out logs, treetops and even abandoned buildings.

These large rodents are strictly vegetarians (herbivores) and enjoy a diet of bark, berries, leaves and plants. They are tree-climbing experts, although they move slowly and awkwardly when they make up their way up the tree line. When they do get up a tree, they sometimes stay up there for days to rest.

Porcupines do most of their breeding in late summer or early fall, giving birth to a single baby, called a “porcupette” in May or June. Porcupettes are quite large when they’re born, but their quills are soft to avoid hurting their mother during their birth.

Porcupettes mature rather slowly and a porcupine’s life span is usually five to six years.  In some cases they have been known to live up to ten years.

One common misconception about porcupines is that they can “throw or shoot” their quills. The truth is, porcupines can only “quill” you if you’re touching them, and there’s usually a few warning signs that come first. A porcupine who is clattering their teeth, vocalising or “displaying” her quills to you, is letting you know not to come any closer.

Despite their tough exterior, porcupines are low-key, calm, quiet creatures who tend to keep to themselves. They are one of the many unique mammals that call Alberta home and make their way into AIWC when injured or in need of help.

The holidays are a great time to help out Alberta’s wildlife! Consider adopting an animal for a loved one through AIWC’s Adopt an Animal program. Program participants receive a colour photo of their adopted animal and an adoption certificate. Give a gift that makes a difference.

By Nina Grossman, AIWC Volunteer









Chickadee and Nuthatch Stay for the Winter

Most birds migrate south during the winter when the weather gets too cold. However, there are some species that will remain in Calgary all year long. Two of these species that are commonly seen in Calgary are the black-capped chickadee and the red-breasted nuthatch.

How are these birds able to withstand the cold winters? Food gathering and roosting strategies help sustain these birds. In combination with proper winter roosts and a healthy supply of food caches, both of these birds are able to stay year round in Calgary.

Black-capped chickadees live in deciduous treed areas or mixed wood forests, where they create a roosting hole in rotten wood, which provides protection and insulation against sub-zero temperatures. Most of the time, the roosting holes are for one chickadee only.

They eat seeds, berries, plant material, and insects. They have a good memory which comes in handy as they store food in thousands of hiding places and rely on those stores throughout the winter!

Red-breasted nuthatches live in coniferous treed areas but often use aspen trees (when available) for their nesting cavities. The male will create several nesting cavities, often in dead trees, dead parts of a live tree, or trees with broken tops, and the female will choose the nest she prefers. Both birds will roost here throughout the winter season.

The diet of the red-breasted nuthatch is not as diverse as the black-capped chickadee in the winter, and relies mostly on conifer seeds. Similar to the chickadee, the nuthatch will also store food and come back to it throughout the winter season. In the non-winter seasons, the nuthatch will eat insects as well as conifer seeds.

Interesting facts:

  • Both of these birds can be seen in parks throughout Calgary. A great place to view these birds is the Inglewood Bird Sanctuary.
  • The red-breasted nuthatch and the black-capped chickadee have very different calls. The black-capped chickadee call is whistely and sounds like he is saying “hey, sweetie” and the red-breasted nuthatch has a more nasily call the sounds like she is saying “yank-yank”. If you’re interested, you can listen to the chickadee here ( and the nuthatch here (
  • The Boreal chickadee has a similar call to the black-capped chickadee, but sounds like he has a cold. Listen to his call here (
  • Other birds that associate with chickadee flocks, such as the red-breasted nuthatch, respond to chickadee alarm calls.
  • The physiology of the black-capped chickadee and the red-breast nuthatch feet differ, allowing these species to grasp onto trees differently. The chickadee has feet that have evolved for perching, and allows them to eat plant foliage easily. Whereas, the nuthatch has feet that have evolved for climbing, which allows them to walk on the side of a tree trunk while foraging bark for insects in the warmer seasons.
  • Red-breasted nuthatches are fairly aggressive for their size, and will often compete with bigger birds for food.
  • Both of these birds will feed off of bird feeders in yards all year round.


Cornel University. 2015. Black-capped chickadee. Available on line:

Cornel University. 2015. Red-breasted nuthatch. Available on line:

Bird foot diagram:

By Tayler Hamilton, AIWC Volunteer

Season of Giving

It’s almost that time of year again to gather with family and friends to celebrate the holiday season.  The season brings with it different things for different people. But it often includes giving.  This ritual can take place in a variety of ways… sharing  in a gift exchange with those who are special to us, time spent volunteering at a local animal shelter, feeding those who are less fortunate a holiday dinner at a local soup kitchen, or donating to one’s favorite charity. 

Why not make wildlife part of that giving and sharing?

There are several ways to help Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation’s injured and orphaned wildlife this season:

Share in the love of reading with the children in your life. Purchase your copy of AIWC’s first children’s book – “Scared Skunk”. This book is the perfect fit for children in grades K to 4, however, anyone at any age can learn from its true story and interesting skunk facts.


Celebrate the holiday season by sending an AIWC Christmas card to the loved ones in your life. Each set contains envelopes, and 2 copies of 5 different card designs featuring AIWC patients and native Alberta wildlife.

Start the New Year with our beautiful 2017 calendar. This colour, 12-month calendar features wildlife admitted to AIWC within the last year and information about the species featured for each month. This is a must-have gift for the wildlife lovers in your life.

Front cover of large calendar.

Front cover of large calendar.

All proceeds from the sale of the books, cards and calendars go towards supporting the care of AIWC’s injured and orphaned wildlife. For more information on how to purchase these lovely items, go to our website and click on “support us”.

Thank you and happy holidays from all of us at AIWC!

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