Alta. centre provides wildlife a place to heal

The centre takes in 2,000 patients a year but also works with the public on wildlife conflict — from skunks to bats

ROCKY MOUNTAIN HOUSE, Alta. — Otis the great horned owl has become a star of stage, screen and television.

A resident of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre near Rocky Mountain House, Alta., the owl came to the centre when he was five days old. Injured and orphaned, he became part of the centre’s wildlife education program and has been used in television and movies with training from executive director Carol Kelly.

He eats pocket gophers provided by local farmers. The centre provides a tax receipt and pays $4 per gopher.

The 35-year-old centre cares for injured, orphaned and compromised wildlife to release them to appropriate habitats. Research and education is also part of its mandate.

The centre takes in about 2,000 patients a year and about 150 to 200 are birds of prey. They receive 10,000 phone calls a year and provide 150 school and community programs. They also can work with the public on wildlife conflict dealing with everything from skunks, squirrels, bats, beavers and larger animals.

The raptors are an important part of the landscape.

“The ferruginous hawk family will eat up to 500 ground squirrels in a summer,” said Kelly during an agriculture field day held in Clearwater County in west-central Alberta.

Alberta has 31 raptor species including hawks, falcons, turkey vultures, eagles and owls. They eat insects, rodents, fish and snakes. Some are scavengers.

“Raptors are our top predators. They don’t have a lot of predators besides us,” she said,

They show up at the hospital after being electrocuted, caught in barbed-wire or hit by a car.

“Raptors are known as an indicator species. They indicate how our environment is doing because they are very sensitive to change,” she said.

During hard winters in which they struggle to find enough eat, owls can starve to death or they may not have young in the spring.

Last year, staff from the centre checked more than 35 great horned owl nests in central Alberta and only one had a clutch of babies, she said.

If raptors attack pets, it is because they are starving and will attack anything that looks edible.

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