MARS Ambassador, Shakespeare, is a Barred Owl and regularly appears at events and classroom presentations.
Involved in a car accident eight years ago, Shakespeare lost one eye and fractured his beak and sternum; it’s also believed that his hearing is impaired. He spent a year and a half in rehabilitation at Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.) in Delta, BC, where it was determined that his health issues made it unsuitable for him to be returned to the wild as he would be unable to fend for himself.
Originally Shakespeare was adopted by MARS as a foster parent to younger Barred Owls, however, he wasn’t particularly good at fostering (though he has since learned) so was given the role of MARS Ambassador – an education bird. MARS Wildlife Rescue Educational Outreach Worker, Reg Westcott, started working at MARS about the same time that Shakespeare arrived; Reg suggested the name Shakespeare and became his handler.
MARS Educational Ambassador, Scarlett, is a Red-Tailed Hawk and often appears with Reg at events.
Scarlett came to MARS from BC SPCA Wild ARC (Animal Rehabilitation Centre) in Victoria; they had rescued four red-tailed hawks, all “imprinted” birds (raised and kept by humans). It’s speculated they were all from the same falconer who removed their identifying leg bands and released them, which is illegal.
Falconry birds are able to hunt, but because they’ve been raised away from their kind they lack the skills to find prey during lean seasons. Also, as they are imprinted on humans, they think they are human (or that humans are hawks).
Scarlett got into trouble in the wild; she was starving and kept returning to human habitations because that’s where she thought she belonged. Someone found her sitting on a tree in their yard and called for help. The rescuer simply extended a gloved hand – not even with food – and Scarlett flew to it! That’s how she arrived at Wild ARC.
Wild ARC’s mandate does not include keeping educational birds, so they found a new home for her at MARS. Maj banded her right away. “She was a sassy little bird”, Maj said, “bouncing around like an orangutan.” Scarlett was still young – she didn’t have a red tail yet. She needed a calm, steady routine and just one handler, so Reg took over her care. “Scarlet doesn’t even speak hawk”, Reg explains, “She makes these growling noises, the closest she can get to how I sound.
Horus, a Red-tailed Hawk, was named after the falcon-headed god of Egyptian legend. She is a very calm, older bird, well-suited to classroom visits. Horus was found near the Quinsam Hatchery. Like Scarlett, she was starving; she also had bumblefoot and what appeared to be a permanent brood patch.
From the time she arrived at MARS, whenever anyone approached she would spread her wings. This seemed curious, so one day Maj approached with her hand outstretched and Horus just climbed on; another imprinted bird. Everyone calls Horus “him”, but “he’s” probably a “her”: the brood patch she had indicates she was likely used for constant breeding. (In the wild, male raptors help incubate the eggs so also develop a brood patch, but it’s unlikely a male hawk would have been forced to incubate in captivity.) It’s possible the breeder simply released the bird when she got old. After some good care and rest at MARS the chest feathers re-grew and the brood patch has all but disappeared. Bumblefoot is caused by improper perching in captivity, another indication that Horus was not well cared for. In the wild, birds perch on branches of varying sizes and textures; if they constantly sit on the same perch they develop pressure sores, or bumblefoot. Sometimes the birds talon themselves, complicating the condition.
Brinley is a female Great Horned Owl, transferred to us in October 2012 from The Raptors in Duncan, where she had been living since leaving the Vancouver Aquarium’s bird of prey program where she spent four years, before the program was discontinued. She was hit by a car, just as Shakespeare and Otus were; in Brinley’s case this resulted in a partial amputation of her right wing. She is a calm, patient ambassador, bonding with her handlers and depending on them for support while out in the field. Head scratches from Reg are one of her favourite things!
Otus is a Western Screech Owl who was rescued near Duncan in 2011, after being hit by a car. He is non-releasable due to damage to his right eye that has left him with imperfect vision and probably unable to hunt effectively. He was a favourite visitor to classrooms as an educational ambassador. These little owls are an endangered species in British Columbia, largely due to loss of the mature forest habitat that they require for nesting. They also suffer from predation by larger owls and vehicle impacts as they hunt for rodents along open roadways. Otus has now joined a breeding recovery program for Screech owls in Smithers, BC, and we hope that he will have many offspring. This spring did see Otus and his mate successfully hatch and raise three owlets.