Bringing a feathered guest home for the holidays is becoming a yearly tradition for Carol Kelly.
The executive director of the Medicine River Wildlife Centre says her family is used to her coming with an unusual Christmas guest and this season is no different.
On Christmas Eve, Kelly transported a great horned owl to her daughter’s home in Cochrane.
The owl, which suffered a broken leg, needs to be fed through a tube several times a day so Kelly couldn’t leave it unattended at the centre. She doesn’t mind the routine and neither does her four-year-old granddaughter Cassidy.
“Cassidy has grown up with it,” said Kelly. “I’m sure she thinks everyone has owls.”
Kelly’s daughter Erin Young also knows what kind of work is involved. She’s in charge of educational programs for the centre, 40 km west of Innisfail.
The centre staff and volunteers help rehabilitate and release injured and orphaned wild animals from across Alberta. Currently, the centre has around 97 birds, a beaver, plus a porcupine, which is expected to recover after being hit by a car. Another porcupine had become a nuisance in Red Deer after stripping off tree branches to eat.
The recent cold snap forced the centre to bring many of its birds inside, including some of its permanent inhabitants that can’t fly well.
“Our cages inside are absolutely full because the (permanent) ones have been brought in,” Kelly said. “Plus, we’re having a busy patient season, more busier than normal this time of year.”
Three patients were found with broken, frozen limbs. The small owl died within a few hours after arriving at the centre, while the eagle and deer were euthanized.
With colder conditions, wildlife generally need to consume more food. Deer and moose can nibble on high branches. It’s the smaller birds of prey that don’t do as well because their food is beneath the deep snow.
The harsh winter has been particularly hard on the saw-whet owl, a miniature owl that feeds mainly on small rodents.
“They have a difficult time because they have to dive through the snow to get to the mice,” Kelly said.
These owls have a better chance of survival if they find an open barn where there’s no threat of other predators.
As Kelly expects some wildlife are feeling right now, she can’t wait for spring.
The centre has a busy fundraising year ahead so it can start a number of projects, including major building renovations. It will raffle of a trip for two to Paris on Wednesday as part of its 2010 calendar campaign. For information, go online at www.medicineriverwildlifecentre.ca