May 30th, 2024

Released into the wild blue yonder

By Lethbridge Herald on October 6, 2020.

Aaron Anderson, environmental adviser and wildlife biologist with AltaLink, holds a red-tailed hawk with the help of Colin Weir, managing director of the Birds of Prey Foundation, Tuesday morning at Cottonwood Park. Herald photo by Dale Woodard

Dale Woodard
Lethbridge Herald
Five birds took flight once again over the coulees Tuesday morning.
The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation released five rehabilitated birds back into the wild at Cottonwood Park, including two that were rescued by AltaLink employees over the last couple of years — a great horned owl and a red-tailed hawk.
Despite the windy conditions on the river valley and one takeoff that needed a second attempt, spirits were as high as the birds’ flight as members of AltaLink gathered to release the birds one-by-one with the assistance of Colin Weir, managing director of the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation.
That included Johanne Picard-Thompson, senior vice-president, corporate services for AltaLink, who released one of the owls.
“It was great,” said Picard-Thompson. “Just the sense of knowing the bird was going to be free and safe. As I released it I said ‘Be safe,’ because it’s really nice to see them back in the wild. So it’s a nice feeling, very rewarding. We had our linemen here and substation techs, they’re the ones that found some of the birds that were released today. So for them they’ve come full circle from finding the birds to releasing the birds. So it’s a great day.
“It’s very rewarding for our company to see these animals released into the wild. This is not the first time we’ve done this. Last year we released a pelican as well. But the team has tremendous pride in terms of being able to save these fantastic birds.”
There was one briefly aborted takeoff as a horned owl didn’t quite get off the ground in the fierce wind and hit a camera tripod.
Fortunately, the owl wasn’t injured and eventually took flight after a little help from Weir.
“It’s always an exhilarating experience for us to send these birds back to the wild every year,” said Weir. “The excitement never wears off.”
Weir said the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation, which has been active since 1982 and is well known across Western Canada for its raptor rescue and conservation work, doesn’t receive any government operating subsidies.
“We rely just on donations and AltaLink is one of our very generous corporate supporters. There are always times when their staff is out doing their field work, driving down the roads here in southern Alberta and they also bring the birds to us. So they rescue them and I’m really appreciative as well.”
Picard-Thompson said AltaLink continues to do a lot of work with their Avian Protection Program.
“Our are teams are trained to be on the lookout for birds and if they need assistance we’re happy to bring them to the Birds of Prey or whatever centre is close by,” she said. “Our Avian Protection Program is a program that we have had in place for over 10 years. What we’re doing with the Avian program is looking to see what we can do to improve our structures so we can make it safe for the birds.”
Picard-Thompson pointed to some red cones hanging over some lines heading into Cottonwood Park.
“Those are bird markers or bird diverters. We try to do some studies to see things we can do in certain areas to help the birds see the lines. We also do some things in our substations because our substations can be dangerous for birds if they land on the wrong equipment. So we have a Green Jacket Program that helps insulate the dangerous pieces of equipment for them to land on and that helps save the birds as well.”
Picard-Thompson said the red-tail hawk released Tuesday had been in recovery for over a year and last year they rehabilitated a pelican that broke its legs.
“With these birds we released today we were very fortunate they didn’t require any surgical intervention. They didn’t have any broken bones,” said Weir, adding the hawk had some soft-tissue damage on one of its wings.
“We just had to keep them for about a year or a year and a half. We just pick the right day and they’re good to go.”
Weir said the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation is closed for the season, but they’re still accepting injured birds year round.
“So you can still reach us through our phone number or our website and we hope to see everybody back next year when we open in the spring.”
The Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation website address is They can be reached by phone at (403) 331-9520.
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