Can you imagine going nose to beak with a Golden Eagle? Holding a great horned owl atop your arm? Watching birds of prey in full flight during a routine exercise demonstration?
I got to experience all of the above, in my up close and personal visit to the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, in Coaldale AB. Just 30 minutes north-east of Lethbridge, the centre is home to a myriad of species local to the area. The centre's mission is to rescue and release birds that have been injured, and to assist in habitat and species conservation.
Among the owls, eagles, raptors, and hawks, one can see a little bird that has an “at risk” status in our province. This little creature is also listed as “endangered” under the Wildlife Act. The species I speak of is the Burrowing Owl. They can be observed at the centre, which is a real treat considering it is difficult to find them in the prairie grasslands as of late. The Burrowing Owls are also bred in captivity, with the goal to release them to the wild at the appropriate time.
I was blown away with the beauty of these animals, and the knowledge and hospitality of the volunteers at the centre. They were quick with the answers to my questions, and allowed me to meet and greet some of the birds in a very close and personal way – nose to beak with the Golden Eagle just for starters!
The real highlight for me was actually assisting during a release, and physically sending these birds of prey back into their natural environment.
While releasing a Great Horned Owl back into the wild (Alberta's official bird), I also learned that Owls can snap their beaks with great force, and hiss quite audibly. While mildly terrifying, the thrill of setting the owl free into the valley was incredible.
A big thank you to Colin from the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, and to all other volunteers! For more information on how you can visit the centre, visit www.burrowingowl.com