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Centre for injured birds sees increase

A snowy owl that ended up in a Kaleden chicken coop rests in a large cage, while an eagle with a flight feather injury keeps a watchful eye from a high perch.

The raptors, or birds of prey, are among the injured birds currently being cared for at the South Okanagan Rehabilitation Centre for OWLS, SORCO.

As the number of birds requiring assistance grows, so does the need for a better facility to care for them.

“Typically, we get 50 to 60 birds a year of all types, mostly red-tailed hawks and great horned owls, but in 2012 we had as many as 94 birds,” said executive manager Lauren Meads,  as she walked the large property near Oliver.

Possible reasons for the bird increase range from climate change to population growth, she said.

The centre was founded by the then owner of the property, Sherri Klein, around 25 years ago.

Klein was passionate about wildlife, especially raptors common to the region including bald eagles, burrowing owls, great horned owls, red-tailed hawks, osprey, falcons and turkey vultures.

The ongoing purpose of the facility has been to treat and care for injured and orphaned birds of prey. The primary goal  being to rescue, rehabilitate and release back to the wild whenever possible.

After Klein left, Ken Fujino, a conservationist, served as the property manager and now Meads is in charge.

The site is operated by The Land Conservancy of BC.

Most of the injuries suffered by the birds are human-related, from being struck by a vehicle to contact with power lines, poisoning and gunshot.

Starvation is a big one as well. Since November five hungry snowy owls have been cared for at the facility.

It is rare to see the Arctic birds in the Okanagan, but it is most likely because of an increase in young and a decrease of food in the Arctic, said Meads.

Two of the very sick, malnourished birds died and two were released in Kelowna.

The one located in a Kaleden chicken coop will likely be released soon.

When the birds come into the centre, either through people dropping them off or volunteers picking them up, they are cared for in the old, original clinic.

After being seen at the Penticton Veterinary Hospital, they are kept in small cages in the clinic until they are eating properly, then moved to medium size cages.

From there the raptors are moved to large flight cages in a more modern facility, before being released to the wild.

“It is so they  can fly back and forth and be ready to hunt,” said Meads.

The raptors are freed within 10 kilometres from where they are found. Although some die because they are on their last legs when they arrive, there is typically a 30 percent release rate.

A bigger clinic means the raptors could get more in house care, cutting down on transportation for the already suffering birds.

Volunteers assist with picking up the birds. More are needed to help with fund-raising and building a new clinic, near where the old one stands.

SORCO is not open to the  public, because it is set up to care for ill raptors. But there will be an open house on May 5.

A 13-year-old great horned owl named Houdini lives on the premises and is used for educational purposes in the community.

“It’s important that we are here and grow to let people know about raptors in the area,” said Meads. “There are also only two places in the interior where you can bring sick raptors, here and the BC Wildlife Park in Kamloops."

Here is raw video from the SORCO by Deborah Pfeiffer.

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