Meet the MARS Ambassador Birds!
Bringing wild education to northern Vancouver Island
Barred Owl (Strix varia)
“A bird, a bird, my kingdom for a bird” extolled Supervisor of wildlife care, Reg Westcott, when he first started working at MARS.His wish was granted when an injured Barred Owl arrived. Reg named him Shakespeare, became his handler and now they regularly appear at community events and classroom presentations in and around the Comox Valley on northern Vancouver Island.
Shakespeare was hit by a car in 2003. He lost his left eye and fractured his beak and sternum. It’s also believed that he has decreased or no hearing on his left side. He spent a year and a half in rehabilitation at the Orphan Wildlife Rehabilitation Society in Delta, British Columbia. (O.W.L.) Wildlife caregivers determined his injuries would prevent him from fending for himself and so it was not possible to return him to the wild.
Originally Shakespeare was adopted by MARS as a foster parent to younger Barred owls. However, he wasn’t very good in this role. He started training to become an Ambassador bird in 2006 and made his first public appearance 6 months later!
He is often heard calling to local wild owls late in the day and sometimes can be heard making “howler monkey” calls. His age is unknown. His diet is mostly quail but is also fed mice as an occasional treat.
Cool Facts About the BARRED OWL...
- Lives in forests
- Is most active at night
- Nests in abandoned cavities in trees
- Has one brood per year
- Is hunted by the Great Horned Owl
- Hoots “Who Cooks For You?” twice
- Doesn’t migrate
- Has acute sight and hearing
- Rips prey apart and eats the head first
Red Tailed Hawk (Buteo jamaicensis)
Horus is a Red-Tailed hawk named after the falcon-headed Egyptian god of the same name. He was found in 2008 hanging around the Quinsam River Hatchery near Campbell River where he was begging for food and displayed “mantling” behaviour that indicated he was imprinted to humans and probably raised in captivitity.
When he was brought to MARS he was emaciated and suffered from “Bumblefoot” which prevented him from being his toes to catch prey. MARS developed a foot cream to cure his foot issue. He is also prone to feather damage as he many not have had a “Mom” to teach him feather maintenance.
He is a calm, older bird, well-suited to classroom visits. He is probably more than 10 years old with a life expectancy of 20 years. He eats 1/2 quail each day.
Cool Facts About the RED TAILED HAWK...
- Likes open country and fields
- Perches on utility poles to spot prey
- Is often seen roadside
- Is the most common hawk in Canada
- Is easy to train, popular with falconers
- Mates after soaring in high circles
- Has great eyesight, built to hunt
- Has a loud, piercing scream
- Mates for life
Great Horned Owl (Bubo virginianus)
Brinley was hit by a car in about 2005 and her right wing was so badly damaged that part of it had to be amputated. She came to MARS in 2012 from The Raptors wildlife rescue in Duncan. She is a large bird who can be a bit intimidating but she is usually calm in public as she is used to working in front of a large audience. She will raise her wings on command to display her amputation. She uses her feet to catch and hold prey. Her feet have a crush force of 400 psi which equals the force of a wolf’s jaw!
She is a calm, patient bird who bonds well with her handlers and depends on them for support while out in the field. Head scratches from her handler are one of her favourite things! She is over 15 yers of age with a life expectancy of 30 years. She eats 1/4 quail and 2 mice each day.
Cool Facts About the GREAT HORNED OWL...
- Is common, mainly nocturnal
- Has laser eyesight, sonar-like ears
- Can swivel head 180° in either direction
- Hunts other owls and hawks
- Uses vice-like talons to sever spines
- Is the hated enemy of crows
- Has ultra soft feathers that quiet flight
- Regurgitates fur, teeth & bones
- Is strongly territorial
Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicotti kennicotti)
Otus Jr. is an offspring of MARS’ Ambassador bird Otus Sr. who was loaned to a research/breeding program in northern B.C. As Otus Jr. was born into a captive breeding program he is non-releasable due to his inability to hunt or protect himself around humans.
Otus likes to rearrange his “furniture” and frequently removes his jesses (thin pliable leather anklets). He is very chatty and often greets when approached. He is about 4 years old with a life expectancy of 15 years. He eats 1 mouse each day.
Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicotti macfarlanei)
Lanei arrived at MARS in March 2015. He is always resistant to go to “work” but is very calm in public and enjoys having his picture taken! He is about 4 years old with a life expectancy of 15 years. He eats 1 mouse each day.
Cool Facts About the WESTERN SCREECH OWL...
- Makes a series of hollow toots
- Can take prey bigger than its own body
- Diet includes bats, insects and earthworms
- Invisible when pressing against a tree
- Live mainly in forested habitats
- Nest in woodpecker tree cavities
- Male and female often preen each other
- Male gets food for female and young in nest
- Vulnerable to predation from Barred Owls