The Wild and Exotic Animal Medicine Society (WEAMS) is a non-profit organization operated by student volunteers at the Western College of Veterinary Medicine (WCVM) and together with the WCVM Veterinary Medical Centre, they provide care for injured wildlife and extoic animals. What follows is a collection of photos highlighting a few charismatic patients who received treatment over the past couple of years.
During the summer of 2015, Northern Saskatchewan saw 532 wildfires burn a staggering 700,991 hectares. An estimated 13,000 people were displaced and relocated to evacuation shelters further south in the province. Often overlooked, was the impact these fires had on the native wildlife. Lola, a great horned owl, was found in distress by a La Ronge area resident and turned over to provincial conservation officers. She had suffered burn damage to the majority of her wing feathers – leaving her flightless and unable to find prey.
Standing face to face with such an impressive predator was an incredibly humbling experience. I can’t quite pinpoint what exactly commanded more respect – her eyes, her beak or the knowledge that it requires twenty-eight pounds of force to open the talons of a great horned owl once they slam shut. Needless to say, It’s certainly an experience I won’t soon forget. Lola made a complete recovery was released spring of 2016.
Fred is a great blue heron who struck a power pole who upon admission was underweight, dehydrated and possibly had an underlying infection. Over the span of a few weeks he received fluids, an assortment of fish, his condition improved steadily and on Saturday October 22nd he was released.
The great blue heron’s distinctive ‘S’ shaped neck has special vertebrae that can quickly and violently rocket its piercing bill towards unsuspecting prey. Thanks to a high percentage of rod-type photoreceptors in their eyes they have impressive low light vision, allowing them to hunt in the dark of night. The great blue heron preys upon pretty much anything within their striking range, not limited to fish, amphibians, reptiles, small mammals, insects, and other birds. They will use their sword-like bill to impale larger prey, which is often followed by aggressive shaking in an effort to relax sharp spines to make swallowing less painful.
Whether it’s fish slime or swamp muck, the great blue heron often finds itself in messy situations. Fortunately special feathers on their chest that continuously grow and fray greatly aid in cleaning. They comb this “powder down” with an adapted claw on their middle toes, using the down much like a washcloth to clean oils and slime from feathers while preening. The great blue heron even applies powder to their lower body to protect against oils encountered while wading through water.
Goshawk is the Old English word for “goose hawk” – no real surprise there. It was labeled as such due to its habit of preying on birds. Northern goshawks display reversed sexual dimorphism with females being nearly twenty five per cent heavier than males – which allows females to catch much larger prey items. Nesting pairs will often build and maintain upwards of eight backup nests within their nesting territory. These fierce raptors are well known for aggressively defending their nest against other birds, predatory mammals and even people who may unwittingly wander too close.
The Northern goshawk is found across northern Eurasia and North America, with Eurasian races displaying significantly darker barring across their chest than North American birds. However, nearly half of the northern goshawks inhabiting Siberia are almost completely white. These secretive raptors usually live in large tracts of forest and are considerably challenging to find and spot. They rarely occur in populated regions and are commonly confused with juvenile Cooper’s Hawk, which have a strikingly similar appearance.
Howie is a goshawk who was observed colliding with a window and was diagnosed with spinal trauma resulting in temporary hind-limb paresis preventing him from walking or perching properly for nearly five days. He responded well to rehabilitation, has regained his strength and is due for imminent release.
Upon first glance this unusual raptor may be mistaken for an owl as its facial disk does give it a very owl-like appearance, but the northern harrier is most certainly a hawk. The disk functions in just the same manner as that of an owl’s – with stiff facial feathers directing sound towards their ears. Unlike other hawks, the northern harrier relies heavily on its sense of hearing to locate prey.
They are often seen gliding slow and low over marshes and grasslands, listening for potential meals. Meals typically include small mammals and small birds, but the northern harrier is also capable of tackling larger animals such as rabbits and ducks – and will occasionally subdue larger prey by drowning them.
The unusual behaviour continues with males breeding with upwards of five partners at once. Impressively, while the females incubate eggs and brood newly hatched chicks, the male provides food for all of his offspring and mates. Prior to egg laying, both sexes will collect nesting materials, though females take charge of interior decorating and arrange the materials to form the nest.
Meet Joan, a Swainson’s hawk who was admitted with head trauma and was later diagnosed with a lateral skull fracture. Her rehabilitation was successful and Joan was released spring of 2016.
The Swainson’s hawk is common sight across the Great Plains and can be found in open ranging environments such as prairies and deserts. During the winter months, they fly south for Argentine wintering grounds. It’s one of the farthest migrations of any North American raptor and they often travel in huge flocks of hundreds or thousands – the flocks are called kettles.
Interestingly when not providing for young, the Swainson’s hawk exclusively prey upon flighted insects, such as moths, grasshoppers and dragonflies – typically catching prey while in flight. During breeding season adults are very opportunistic, eating a wide variety of small mammals and even other birds. In an area close to Alberta, a significant percentage of the Swainson’s hawk’s diet consisted of burrowing owls.
The belted kingfisher is one of the few bird species where females have more attractive plumage than males. Breeding pairs will aggressively defend their territory against other kingfishers and nest in tunnels constructed in exposed vertical soil. Newly hatched kingfishers have strong stomach acids able to digest fish bones and scales. However, by the time the young fledge, their stomach chemistry changes and they will instead regurgitate pellets filled with indigestible bones and scales.
These energetic birds breed and nest as far north as northern Alaska and Canada, and most will migrate south to overwinter in Mexico and Central America. Some birds will may remain in northern breeding regions provided they have access to open water. The belted kingfisher is known to wander and occasionally end up in Hawaii, the British Isles, Iceland, Greenland and a few other exotic locations.
Meet Carl, an adorable northern saw-whet owl, who was admitted unable to fly and showed evidence of head trauma, damage to the right eye, and an infection. After three weeks of treatment with antibiotics, pain relievers, and anti-inflammatory medications, Carl was released back into the wild. The northern saw-whet owl is one of the most common owls in the forests of North America, but it’s also highly nocturnal and seldom seen. It’s believed the northern saw-whet owl was named for it’s call sounding similar to a saw being sharpened on a whetting stone. They grow no taller than twenty centimeters and weigh to a hefty 150 grams.
Bruce, an American robin, was found with injuries consistent with being the victim of a domestic cat attack, including a fractured sternum, fractured ribs, and soft tissue trauma. Fortunately, he responded well to treatment with antibiotics and pain relief, and was successfully gaining weight when he was transferred to a long term rehabilitation facility. The American robin can produce three successful broods in one year, although only forty per cent of nests successfully generate young. Of fledged young, barely twenty five per cent survive past November and of all alive American robins only half will live another year. Regardless of the fact a lucky robin may reach fourteen years of age, the whole population turns over roughly every six years. Basically, it’s a tough life for a robin.
Bandit, a cedar waxwing, was diagnosed with a fractured ulna, one of the bones of the wing. He responded well to stabilization by means of non-surgical treatment using a body wrap (visible orange bandage in photo), and follow-up with radiographs (x-rays) two weeks later showed bone healing. With a positive outlook, the waxwing was sent to long term rehabilitation facility.
The cedar waxwing can survive solely on fruit alone for many months and occasionally they will become intoxicated after consuming overripe berries that have fermented. They eat so much fruit that a brown cowbird chick raised in the nest of a cedar waxwing will perish as it unable to develop on a high- fruit diet.