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PHOTOS: Winter at the BC Wildlife Park (Part 3)

While mammals may be the more famous residents at the B.C. Wildlife Park, it hosts a variety of large birds, all who spend the winter in Kamloops.

More than 15 birds call the Dallas-based centre home, and zookeeper Larissa Denault (Setse7) is one of their primary caretakers. She explains that many of the birds living in the Kamloops region — and colder parts of the world in general — actually have a lot of feathers, which provide good insulation.

"If you were to take the feathers and the skeleton, you'll typically find with ravens and birds of prey species that the feathers will weigh more than the skeleton," she says. "The feather structure is incredibly insulating."

For Igor the raven, who came to the park in 2007 after someone took him from his nest (he was still a chick), caretakers provide him with some extra bedding and some windbreaks via donated Christmas trees.

"Those feathers are incredibly insulating so for the most part, unless it is a really cold snap we can provide them heat lamps, there isn't much more to do for him," Denault says.

Because ravens are smart birds, feeding Igor is a little more involved than just putting some food in his cage, and Denault spreads it around a bit for him to find.

And then Igor goes and does something similar, called caching. Essentially he eats his lunch and then take anything he didn't finish and hides it around his living quarters, tucking it under leaves or into crevices. He's doing this to hide it from other animals, and he'll check to see if others are watching. Deneault says he'll even rehide some things, after she's left.

"Ravens will take several hiding places and will cautiously watch to see if other birds are actually seeing where they're hiding their food and they will change it fairly often," she says.

The park's eagles and owls are a little less meticulous when it comes to food. In the winter they'll sometimes leave food for a couple of hours where a zookeeper left it before grabbing it. Then they'll eat it and head back to their favourite perch.

"When it gets really cold a lot of the time birds will try to conserve as much of their body energy as they can," Deneault says.

All the owls and eagles have either had head injuries or wing injuries, making it impossible to live in the wild, including missing eyes and damaged bones.

"In the case of one of the bald eagles it was so severe they actually have a partial amputation of their wing," she says.

One of the bald eagles is also very much a senior citizen. Chinook came to the on-site animal hospital in 1996 Deneault says, already sporting the white head and tail feathers of a mature adult. Since it takes eagles four or five years to get the iconic plumage, they know she was born in the early 1990s, at the latest, which puts her at around 30 years old (at least). The average age of a wild eagle is 20 years, with the oldest recorded wild eagle dying at 38. In captivity, the oldest even lived past 50 years old.

Bald eagles play a big role in Secwepemc culture, and Deneault (who's Secwepemc herself) has worked to connect the park with the local First Nations.

"We have a long-running list of people who are searching for feathers for ceremonial uses and traditional uses and so we do have the ability to gift them in certain situations," she says. "Whenever we go through molts with the birds that are residents here and we collect those."

There's a long list of people waiting for feathers, she adds, as the birds only molt a couple of times a year.

If you're curious about how the other animals at the wildlife park live, check out part one of this series HERE and part two HERE.



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