Help injured animals but don’t be a kidnapper

Birds are creatures I admire. Not just for their grace of flight and various songs and fascinating behaviours, but for their adaptability. It seemed to me, growing up in Calgary, seeing birds nest in broken lights, all manner of buildings, under bridges, etc., and the flocks of scavenger birds always scrounging for food, that as a whole, birds are rather hardy – at least the city varieties: pigeons, sparrows, seagulls, crows and magpies, being among the most common. I’d almost wager that should a nuclear apocalypse occur it would be these birds and cockroaches that would survive. There isn’t much variety in a big city though. You pretty much have to go to a bird sanctuary to catch a glimpse of even a chickadee.

That’s one reason I appreciate living in Ponoka so much. In our own backyard, or walking along the trails in the river valley, we’ve been delighted to spot some unexpectedly colourful, exotic-looking species I couldn’t identify but would love to learn more about.

Crows, though not one of the colourful or unexpected varieties of birds mentioned, are one type of bird I learned more about recently. Did you know that in May, June and July, adolescent (also called “fledgling”) crows spend several days on the ground learning to fly? Their parents stay nearby and bring them food and teach them how to fly until they become practiced enough to venture out on their own.

A well-meaning bird lover may come across an adolescent crow and mistake it for being orphaned or abandoned. Similarly, hares and fawns are often mistakenly “rescued.” Every spring, wildlife centres in Alberta are overrun with baby animals brought in by well-intentioned, though ultimately misguided, concerned citizens.

For some animals it is normal for the young to be left unattended for long periods of time. A doe will leave her fawn in a secluded area while distracting predators, as will a hare, leaving the babies for most of the day to keep its own scent from attracting trouble.

Before becoming an accidental kidnapper, experts suggest waiting for a while to see if mom returns.

If an animal is clearly injured, that is a different matter. The sooner an injured animal receives proper care, the better its chances will be.

In Alberta, only certified wildlife rehabilitation centres are legally permitted to give long-term care for orphaned or injured wildlife. To find a centre near you that can handle the type of animal you’ve encountered, call the Alberta Wildlife Hotline at 888-924-2444.

One such centre is the Medicine River Wildlife Centre (MRWC). The centre is in Spruce View, but also has a first aid station in Red Deer. Their staff are dedicated and passionate about helping animals.

The MRWC recommends the following for most injured animal cases:

“Cover the patient with a towel, coat, or blanket and transfer them, towel and all, to a cardboard box with no air holes and close the lid. Keep the animal warm, dark, and quiet. Never feed an injured patient until you’ve received direction from a wildlife hospital. Contact a wildlife hospital for further instructions as soon as possible as delays may cause further illness or death in your patient. If you are unsure or fearful to approach a wild patient, or the patient is a larger or more aggressive species, please stay with it and call a wildlife hospital for help.”

Our family recently had the experience of attempting to rescue an injured adolescent crow. It was determined after sending a photo and observing it walking awkwardly, that it was indeed injured and not just learning to fly, and we made arrangements to take the bird to the first aid station in Red Deer.

All recommendations were followed, though sadly as we were about the leave, the crow died suddenly. It was likely too far gone.

Some may ask why even bother trying? Crows are a dime-a-dozen. To the wildlife centre worker I interviewed last fall while I was freelancing though, helping injured wildlife wasn’t even a question. She said as most wildlife injuries are caused by human activity, we owe it to them to try, and that it is always worth trying.

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