Help migrating birds have a safer flight

Migrating birds will face a daunting obstacle course of death and danger this fall as they wing through Southern Alberta.

Off-leash dogs, killer felines, stone-throwing children and fast-moving vehicles are just a few of the hazards they will be forced to navigate, said Holly Duvall, executive director for the Alberta Institute for Wildlife Conservation (AIWC).

“Alberta is right in the middle of a migratory pathway and this is a time when a lot of animals get injured,” she said in a phone interview.

Of the roughly 1,600 injured or orphaned wildlife the AIWC receives every year, 95 per cent are admitted due to human activity. Hitting a power line, getting struck by a vehicle or even a dry landing can cause serious injury or death, Duvall said.

A dry landing is when a bird mistakes a strip of highway or a parking lot for water. And even if they land without injury, they are often unable to get back into the air. Recently, a red-necked grebe made such a landing on a road in the Canmore area. It was brought to the AIWC centre located near the town of Madden where it was cared for and later released.

“These birds need a huge water runaway to get into the air,” Duvall said. “So, unfortunately, that bird was stranded.”

Grebes are not the only birds found at the centre.

“There are quite a few smaller birds that are brought in because of attacks from cats or from hitting windows,” said Katie Dundon, a wildlife rehab technician who works at the centre.

A cat’s mouth is filled with large amounts of bacteria and even a small bite can cause a deadly infection, Dundon explained.

On any given day during the summer, the institute can have as many as 300 birds and mammals in care. It currently has four great horned owls in various stages of recuperation, Dundon said.

“They were found by the public, abandoned or injured in some way,” she said.

Though she enjoys caring for the animals, Dundon said she does not get too friendly with them.

“They need to be released back into the wild,” she explained. “It doesn’t help if they think humans are a source of food.”

There are many ways Albertans can keep migratory birds safe. The easiest thing people can do for songbirds is to “bird-proof” their windows, Duvall said. Bohemian waxwings, which take a break in southern Alberta in early winter on their journey from the north, are notorious for getting drunk off the berries of mountain ash trees and flying into large windows.

“You just need to break up that reflection so they don’t think they can fly through there,” Duvall said, explaining that adding window decals you might use for Halloween, smearing a bar of soap on the glass or attaching strips of glittery tape will make enough of a difference so birds avoid the window.

‘These are just some simple things you can do to help a huge number of birds,” Duvall said.

Other ways include keeping cats indoors, not letting dogs off leash while on walks and teaching children the importance of respecting wildlife.

“These birds have a huge journey ahead of them and the last thing they need is to be chased by a dog,” Duvall said.

Eyes on the sky: These Swainson’s hawks are almost ready to be released into the wild. (Photo by Wyatt Tremblay/The Press)
Eyes on the Sky: These Swainson’s hawks are almost ready to be released into the wild. (Photo by Wyatt Tremblay/The Press)

For instance, Duvall said, the Swainson’s hawk migrates from Alberta to southern Argentina every year, a distance of roughly 12,000 kilometres.

“You can only imagine what these birds face,” she said.

In an effort to increase awareness about the fall migration and human-caused pitfalls for the birds, the AIWC has launched it annual “Fall Migration Non-Event Party.”

“You can pour hundreds and thousands of dollars into actually hosting an event, but we want to put all of the money into the program,” Duvall said.

The institute is hoping to raise $35,000, which will go directly to the animal rehabilitation program at the centre. To donate to the non-event party click here.

Stretching its wings: A great horned owl launches itself from a perch. (Photo by Wyatt Tremblay/The Press)
Stretching its Wings: A great horned owl launches itself from a perch. (Photo by Wyatt Tremblay/The Press)
About Wyatt Tremblay 5 Articles
As a writing and communications major in the journalism program at SAIT, Wyatt Tremblay worked as a reporter for The Press during the 2015-16 academic year.