A hospital wing – for raptors

Volunteer Melissa Visser feeds peregrine falcon Nelson quail for lunch at Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL). Nelson, a female and permanent resident and education bird, was thought to be a male when she arrived at OWL in 2004 because of her small size. - Boaz Joseph photos / The Leader
Volunteer Melissa Visser feeds peregrine falcon Nelson quail for lunch at Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL). Nelson, a female and permanent resident and education bird, was thought to be a male when she arrived at OWL in 2004 because of her small size.
— image credit: Boaz Joseph photos / The Leader

Tyra and Nelson both go to school, and today, in the cafeteria – their backyard – they’re served, respectively, a fresh mouse and raw quail for lunch.

The two are eduction birds at Delta’s Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL), the go-to place for injured raptors.

While the majority of birds at the five-acre facility are on the mend for eventual release into the wild, there are permanent birds and related education birds that are brought by volunteers to the community to teach people about what OWL does and to tell the birds’ stories.

Tyra, a merlin – a small falcon – was brought to OWL in 2006 from Jaffray (a village near Fernie) with a severely damaged right wing.

Nelson came to OWL from Delta two years earlier.  Found in a chicken coop with severe corneal damage to her left eye, she was given a boy-bird name after she was mis-sexed, due to her small size.(Female birds of prey tend to be larger than males.)

A few years later, “she surprised us by laying an egg,” explains OWL volunteer Mindy Dick.

The rescue-rehabilitation-release mandate keeps OWL’s staffers and volunteers busier than ever taking care of birds of prey.

Dick, a veteran of a raptor education centre in Duncan, says she’s personally gone out on rescues for the last three Friday nights.

Photo at left: Volunteer Lindsay Philips feeds Tyra a mouse. Tyra, a merlin, is an education bird and permanent resident of OWL.

As of last Monday (April 14), OWL had taken in 131 birds so far in 2014, and dozens are currently at various stages of treatment throughout the centre.

Their injuries range from inter-species fighting (a big habit with eagles), electrocutions, poisoning, collisions with cars, and young, weak birds falling out of nests (sometimes rejected by their parents.)

Sometimes, explains Dick, same-species female permanent birds at OWL will, by instinct, adopt and foster young orphans – they’re sometimes protective enough to be aggressive to their human healers in their cages.

Although the majority of birds come from the Lower Mainland, some arrive from Vancouver Island, the interior and even the U.S., and sometimes by air. Some birds take months to recover, with the help of local veterinarians.

With such a volume of patients, OWL, located near Boundary Bay Airport, is a big facility. It’s got a medical exam room, an intensive care unit, inside and outside care rooms, flight cages (used for pre-release birds), a pool cage (used to re-train eagles and ospreys for hunting), front and side education pens, an interpretation centre, and a mixture of large and small cages for permanent and education birds.

OWL is a non-profit organization that relies on public, corporate, and private donations to pay for operational costs.

From September to the end of June, OWL conducts guided tours every Saturday and Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. During July and August, tours take place daily.

There’s no end to the need for volunteers – not just bird handlers, but drivers, and people who do maintenance, carpentry and electrical work. For those who choose hands-on bird care, it’s a unique opportunity.

“It’s awesome here,” says one-year volunteer Melissa Visser as she hand-feeds Nelson the peregrine falcon.

“Being able to see such fantastic creatures… being able to release a bird that’s (recovered) here.”

OWL Society is hosting its annual open house and bird release on April 26 and 27 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Special guests this year are wood carver Xwalacktun of Squamish First Nation, and the Burrowing Owl Society. Release of birds will take place as well, one bird every day at 1 p.m. sharp. OWL is located at 3800 72 St. For more information visit, call 604-946-3171 or email

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