Colin Weir, the Executive Director of the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre, has rescued families of ducks, transported hawks in the back seat of his car, and has walked around in a suit with a bald eagle on his arm.
His nearly lifelong passion for rescuing, rehabilitating, and releasing birds of prey is well known in Southwestern Alberta. An effort that began in the early 1980s in his backyard has evolved into a facility, located on 140 acres of working wetland in Coaldale, that in a typical summer hosts more than 15,000 visitors and houses more than 250 birds.
Through the winter months, the Centre is closed, but Weir maintains a busy schedule. He fields phone queries about injured birds and guides visiting school groups from across the province. Thousands of students have visited the Centre over the past two decades.
According to Annie Lieverse, a teacher at L.T. Westlake Fine Arts School in Taber, students have taken so much away from their visits that they chose a red-tailed hawk as their school mascot, named for permanent Centre resident Sky Glider, and based the school motto, “Soaring Above and Beyond,” on inspiration drawn from flight. “The stories of the birds and their rehabilitation have really touched the student’s hearts over the years,” Lieverse said.
Lieverse added that visiting the Birds of Prey Centre helped the students put their other experiences with nature and the arts into perspective. “When the students have the opportunity to visit the Centre again — and we know that our students from 20 years ago are now bringing their own children — they will also connect the park, coulee, river and prairie as a place where the birds of prey belong. Who knows where that inspiration will lead?”
Weir wants people to know that the Birds of Prey Centre and the Alberta Birds of Prey Foundation are about more than the birds he and his team rescue, nurture, and protect. Through their efforts, a flat field has been transformed into a working model of a prairie wetland. The property on which the Birds of Prey Centre stands is now an important and evolving ecosystem that serves the community as an international tourist destination, and helps to protect the surrounding county from excess flood water at peak times of the year.
Migrating ducks, geese, pelicans, and a host of other wildlife occupy the space and add living value to the environment as a vital sanctuary.
“This is much more than a storm water retention pond,” Weir said. “We have created an oasis of biodiversity in essentially a semi-arid environment. Looking at it today, you would hardly believe that at one time the area where the Centre is located was a flood-prone field that was generally unusable.”
Among the many partners Weir describes are public and private donors who have generously supported the ongoing operation of the facility. They assist with everything from big projects like wetland development, to everyday items like shopping and keeping many of the birds in warm, heated, indoor quarters through the winter.
The Centre does not receive any financial support from the government; rather, it relies entirely on donations and revenues from admission and education programs. Grants from corporate and charitable sources help with bigger capital projects.
A recent grant supplied by the Community Foundation’s Community Priorities Fund supports the construction of a staircase at the front entrance of the Natural History building, improving its accessibility and appearance. Thanks to the generosity of donors, the Centre now also has a permanent endowment fund at the Community Foundation that supports its work annually.
PHOTO, ABOVE: Birds of Prey Centre staff with students from L. T. Westlake Fine Arts School in Taber, AB and Sky Glider, a red-tailed hawk who makes the facility his permanent home. More than 15,000 people visit the centre in a typical year.
PHOTO, TOP AND BELOW: The land on which the Birds of Prey Centre sits was once a flat field. Over the past 25 years, it has been transformed into a 140 acre working wetland that supports many migratory birds and acts as an important water drainage system for the town of Coaldale, AB.
To learn more about the Alberta Birds of Prey Centre and its charitable division, the Birds of Prey Foundation, please visit their website: www.burrowingowl.com or find them on Facebook.