By Cal Braid
Sunny South News
The Alberta Birds of Prey Centre is opening for the 2022 season on May 21, and manager Colin Weir is anticipating the return of the public to the facility.
“Working with visitors to the centre is always uplifting for us, even more so now, after dealing with pandemic related hardships for the past two years,” he said.
The centre is described as “a superb venue to inspire young minds so they can develop the knowledge and skills necessary to protect, preserve and restore our environment,” and after visiting it, the statement resonates as an accurate representation of why they exist.
Weir said that the centre can attract as many as 20,000 visitors per season, and with many families anxious to get back to their summer routines of fun and activity, this year is a great one to visit the facility. Owls, falcons, hawks, and eagles all call the centre home, either temporarily or permanently. Some are rescued and rehabilitated for reintroduction back into the wild and others are retained at the centre. The facility usually hosts a small flock of waterfowl in their ponds, but Weir has decided to keep them off the premises this year due to province-wide outbreaks of the avian flu.
Walking through the centre during the tourist season is a remarkable experience for children, youth, and adults alike. People rarely—if ever—get a chance to stand close to a magnificent bird which usually keeps its distance from humans. Watching the movements of a bird’s eyes up close and admiring the details of its plumage is a fascinating experience. Having an owl perched on your arm for a photo opportunity is both an exciting and gratifying keepsake memory.
According to their website, the centre stands on ground that was once, “a marginally productive cultivated field. The site, which was once a prairie wetland, like many marshes, was drained so the land could be put into agricultural production.”
The history of the site is an interesting study in land management. It is situated on low elevation land that experienced periodic flooding, and “was designated to serve as a regional stormwater retention area. Instead of constructing single-purpose rectangular holding ponds, foundation volunteers worked with the Town of Coaldale and Alberta Environment to pursue a multi-use environmentally creative solution by building a stormwater retention site that reclaimed the original native wetland habitat—land that would house a birds of prey rescue facility, and a new wildlife education facility and tourist attraction.”
Their website reveals, “To ensure the natural wetland was sustained through periods of low precipitation, the St. Mary’s River Irrigation District agreed to provide water through its distribution system. Other partners (in) the project included the City of Lethbridge, County of Lethbridge, Alberta Tourism, Alberta Environment, Alberta Fish and Wildlife Division, Ducks Unlimited as well as local fish and game clubs and many volunteers.”
It is a remarkable story of how the vision of individuals can grow into something so useful, engaging, and inspirational. Attending the site with this in mind can give one a greater appreciation of their visit to the centre — what could have been a rectangular holding pond is now a wildlife sanctuary.
“Not receiving any government subsidies, we rely on admission fees and donations to sustain our rescue work and the daily operations of the centre,” Weir said. “Consequently, by visiting us, our visitors are an essential part of making our life-saving conservation efforts possible.”
“While donations are always appreciated, the easiest way to help is either by visiting us in person, spreading the word, and recommending family and friends to come and see us as well.”
Tours and school programs are available and are led by a qualified leader from the centre and groups can book times online or by phone. Find the centre at http://www.burrowingowl.com/index.php or call them at 403-331-9520. The Centre will be open daily after May 21, from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. until Sept. 5.
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