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 he is also fed mice as an occasional treat. He weighs about 1 kg.
- 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 captivity.
When he was brought to MARS he was emaciated and suffered from “Bumblefoot” which prevented him from bending 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 and weighs about 1.3 kg.
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 about 3 years old when she was hit by a car in 2005. 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.
Brinley 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 years of age with a life expectancy of 30 years. She eats 1/4 quail and 2 mice each day and weighs about 1.5 – 2.0 kg.
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 in 2013, 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 has a life expectancy of about 15 years and he eats 1 mouse each day and weighs about 200 – 250 g.
Western Screech Owl (Otus kennicotti macfarlanei)
Lanei arrived at MARS in March 2015 when he was about 2 years old. He is always resistant to go to “work” and will hang upside down from his roof. But once his plans are foiled he really loves to have his handler give him a head massage. Not scratches…a massage. He is very calm in public and enjoys having his picture taken! He has a life expectancy of about 15 years and he eats 1 mouse each day and weighs about 170 – 230 g.
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
Northern Saw-whet Owl (Aegolius acadicus)
Sawyer came to MARS in August 2014 at about a year of age when he sustained damage to his right wing, possibly due to a cat attack. The damage to his wing was severe and the entire wing was surgically amputated. He was a very brave patient, even trying to bite the vet’s fingers! He is a confident bird whose disposition makes him ideal for classroom presentations.
In 2016 Sawyer’s right eye became inflamed and even though it was treated with daily eye drops, it did not heal. In September 2017 he underwent surgical removal of his eye.
Sawyer likes to be alone and can get cranky at times. During the winter cold he is housed in the MARS hospital building due his small size and disabilities. He has a life expectancy of 8-9 years. He eats 1 mouse each day and weighs about 70 – 100 g.
Northern Saw-Whet Owl
- Very small with large heads that lack ear tufts
- Has a catlike face and bright yellow eyes
- Common in forests across northern North America
- Has a high-pitched too-too-too call
- Usually eats mice in pieces, over two meals
- They nest in previously excavated holes usually made by other birds
- The female incubates and broods; the male hunts
- About 18 days after the last egg hatches, the female leaves the nest
- The male continues bringing food to the nestlings
- The nest gets very messy after the female leaves
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Humpty was a pre-fledgling found at the base of a tree and thought to be dead. 5 days later he was noticed to be moving and MARS was called in for rescue. As he had suffered a great fall, his finders named him Humpty.
Upon admission he was found to be suffering from severe dehydration and emaciation. His tail feathers were missing, but slowly grew back within his first year at MARS. It is also believed that he has some mental deficit due to his early injuries. He seldom vocalizes and his flight remains uncertain. His diet consists of poultry, fish and deer meat and he weighs about 2.73 kg.
Bald Eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
Hyacinth fell from her nest as a pre-fledgling when her nest fell apart. MARS was called and went by boat to the site at Hyacinth Cove on Quadra Island to rescue her.
She suffered multiple fractures in her right wing that were too close to the shoulder to be pinned so her wing was taped for 4 weeks. When another eagle accidentally bumped into her later, the wing was re-fractured. It eventually did heal but has a slight curve in the humerus so she is unable to “soar like an eagle”.
Hy is very vocal and likes to greet her handlers when they enter her enclosure. She is fairly gentle in spite of her size and gets along well with Humpty who is her permanent roommate. She also seems to enjoy the company of other eagle patients when they are housed together. Her diet consists of poultry, fish and deer meat and she weighs about 3.5 – 4.0 kg.
- Not really bald, but their white-feathered heads gleam above their brown body
- Young birds attain adult plumage in about five years
- Scavenge many meals by harassing other birds or by eating carrion or garbage
- Eat mainly fish, but also hunt mammals, gulls, and waterfowl
- Known to play and have been seen passing sticks to each other in midair
- The largest nest on record was 2.9 meters wide and 6.1 meters tall
- The oldest recorded bird in the wild was at least 38 years old when it was hit and killed by a car