The past year proved to be a very busy, rewarding and interesting time at the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society.
There were over 1,800 wildlife admissions. This number included 1,337 Vaux's swifts that were DOA but each was recorded as an admission to meet our permit requirements. Actual admissions were 491, an average year for MARS.
Our bald eagle population seems to be holding steady and we had 47 admissions and saw many that were emaciated. It seemed we had more long-term patients that needed specialized care and critical care and during the winter we were working at full capacity.
We also saw an increase in unusual species such as a brown pelican, osprey, an endangered marbled murrelet and a pigeon guillemot, which require special needs especially food that often is not readily available.
Eight species of owls were admitted from a variety of habitats. The majority of their injuries were from impacts with vehicles. Most of the owls sustained fractures to wings or head and eye injuries.
The smaller owls arriving at the centre also suffered from emaciation and a variety of other injuries, but they are also most vulnerable to habitat loss, as they require dead tree cavities for nesting; many of these trees were felled by the numerous windstorms that swept through our local areas.
Oscar the snowy owl, another baby boomer, has been at MARS for almost two months, and is in his final stamina training before release.
Last summer, our ambassador owl Otus was sent to Prince George to another wildlife centre, where he is hopefully taking part in a breeding program. So far he has been introduced to a potential mate but only time will tell if they will successfully breed. He was a great loss to my educational program.
Last year also appeared to be an "irruptive year" for many wildlife species, especially birds. This result in a "baby boom" when food is plentiful and more young are produced, which in turn results in a population increase that forces the juveniles away from their normal territory to find their own food.
The climate changes seem to be not only altering wildlife habitats, but the habits of these species. Birds seem especially vulnerable.
Last year's baby boom created an irruptive year for the little birds that came visiting in the back yard. My eye was drawn to a tight-knit flock of little birds that were in perpetual motion landing in a stand of birch trees.
I grabbed a camera and tried to capture one that was stationary standing or hanging upside down gleaning bark or seeds from the trees. I gave up trying to capture them on camera and switched to binoculars as an attempt to identify them.
I knew they were finches from their beaks but not a common visitor. Once home, surrounded by bird books, I identified them as common redpolls a non-native species of southwestern B.C. Normal habitat for these little birds is the boreal and arctic tundra, high in the arctic from North America to Europe and Russia. One wonders how such tiny birds can survive in such a harsh, unforgiving climate.
I feel very fortunate to have seen these cool little birds, as during my research into their habits I found there is very little documentation about their habits.
Bird watching can be very therapeutic and addictive as well as fascinating and rewarding. I am sure that we will continue to see many more unusual species in places they have rarely been seen before.
To attract birds to your feeders, make sure food is changed and replaced every few days. Some species like pine siskins are particularly prone to salmonella, so feeders should be cleaned regularly.
We have also received cases of avian pox so please report any sightings of birds with chicken pox-type lesions, usually on their faces or feet. To report injured wildlife, call 1-800-304-9968 before attempting a rescue.
For more information on MARS, visit www.wingtips.org.
Sandy Fairfield is the educational co-ordinator for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS). The MARS column appears every second Friday.