Tis the season – for an abundance of owls at the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC).
According to AIWC Executive Director Holly Lillie, the Madden-based Animal Hospital and Rehabilitation Center in Rocky View County admitted 12 owls in the past month alone. She said that although the institute is usually busiest in the spring and summer, the hospital receives injured and orphaned wildlife all year round, and the onset of winter is a common time to receive birds. of injured prey, especially owls.
“This time of year is quite common to see birds of prey, like owls,” she said. “There are quite a few owl species that stay in Alberta year-round, so we want to get the word out about them and [for people] take it into account, especially since the days are shorter now. It is not uncommon to see owls in the winter and it may actually be easier to see owls in the winter.
She added that owls are usually admitted to the AIWC after sustaining traumatic head or wing injuries, often the result of unintended conflict with humans.
“A lot of times what we see now are owls that have been hit by cars,” she said, adding that AIWC vets recently performed surgery on an owl that had to have an eye removed. Thankfully, she said the operation was a success and owls, unlike other birds of prey, can still thrive in the wild with only one eye, due to their unique hunting style.
The financial cost and level of care an owl needs at the AIWC depends on several factors, such as its size, breed, and the severity of its injuries.
Lillie said the most common owl admitted to the AIWC is the great horned owl, although the center also has a few northern owls.
She added that big owls usually eat more than little owls. For example, the great horned owl – the most common owl in Alberta – can eat up to eight mice a day.
“We’ve seen a lot more great gray owls than usual this year, and we don’t know why,” she said. “Often wildlife populations will increase if there is a good food source, so they may have more young that year. There are many animals that correlate their populations with available food sources.
Although owls and other birds of prey aren’t the most expensive animals the AIWC cares for, Lillie said they still need a lot of funds to rehabilitate. She said that at $1.25 a mouse, it can cost up to $70 a week to feed great horned owls. And if they’re in the AIWC, that usually means they have to recover from an injury and “moult” their feathers, which can take some owls up to two years.
According to Lillie, the AIWC can cost anywhere from $100 to well over $1,000 to care for an individual owl.
“The more we work, the more food they need, the more antibiotics they need and the duration of care too, [means] they can really get quite expensive,” she said. “We currently have two great horned owls who will be with us until next summer, and they were in our care in 2020. They both arrived at different times and suffered significant damage to the feathers – one from a methane torch and one from a piece of farm equipment.
“Obviously it’s very expensive when you count $15 a day to take care of them.”
To help offset the costs of caring for the many owls at the center — as well as other injured animals cared for by the AIWC — Lillie said the nonprofit is trying to promote its annual Christmas fundraiser. . Give the Gift of Saving Wildlife, as the campaign is known, aims to raise $85,000 by the end of the calendar year to help support the institute’s mission to rehabilitate injured and orphaned wildlife.
With just a few weeks left in this year’s campaign, Lillie noted there’s still plenty of fundraising to do.
“We’re looking for community support, so any support people are able to give — whether it’s $1, $5 or more — really has a huge impact,” she said. “We are not funded by the government, so we rely on successful grants and then donations.”