Ode to an owl: Rescue bird remembered as wildlife ambassador

Colonel Slade, a half-blind barred owl, known as an ambassador in Alberta's animal welfare community, died last week of an apparent stroke.

'She was perfectly suited to deliver the message'

Colonel Slade, a rescue owl, served for years as a wildlife in ambassador in Alberta. (WILDNorth/Facebook)

Before her death she enjoyed her favourite meal —  field mouse and quail meat.

Colonel Slade, a half-blind barred owl, known as an ambassador in Alberta's animal welfare community, died last week of an apparent stroke.

"She was about the size of a loaf of a bread, more barred than striped," said Gord Court, a provincial wildlife biologist who acted as caretaker for the bird. "She was very, very beautiful.

"People really enjoyed her, especially kids. I mean, we used her shamelessly to get kids away from their screens and get them to interact with nature."

Slade the owl was 16, far past middle age for her species.

"We thought we would get a little bit more time with her but I guess that's just the way it went," Court said in an interview Tuesday with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM.

Watch the video below when Slade came to visit the CBC Edmonton studios in 2016.

Gordon Court brought Colonel Slade the owl to the CBC Edmonton studio. The owl survived getting struck by a vehicle. 0:52

Slade's death prompted an outpouring of condolences from members of wildlife rescue and conservation groups.

WILDNorth, which often hosted the bird as part of its education programs, was among the first organizations to share their condolences.

"People loved her as soon as they laid eyes on her lovely barred feathers and soulful dark eyes, and witnessed her gentle disposition," the agency wrote on its Facebook page.

"She will be fondly remembered. Thank you, Colonel, for all you've helped teach us!"

Slade, named after the cantankerous army ranger character in Scent of a Woman, had become a mascot in the animal welfare community.

She spent years visiting schools and rescue agencies, appearing regularly on television and other educational programs.

She helped teach thousands of people about forest conservation and the plight of her species, which is listed as "sensitive" in Alberta due to habitat loss.

"It is with a sad heart that we say our goodbyes to Colonel Slade, the Barred Owl," the Beaverhill Bird Observatory wrote on their Facebook page.

"She has been loved by so many people. Her legacy will forever live on." 

'We will miss her' 

Slade lived in captivity for 14 years ago, ever since she was struck by a passing car on a B.C. highway. 

Initially, she was used as a decoy by the University of Alberta, helping researchers better understand birds vulnerable to habitat loss.

But she wasn't cut out for the rigours of the job, Court said. Slade was unusually gentle for a bird of prey.

"When we found out how we could trust her with kids, how she actually seemed to enjoy being touched, and how absolutely dog-tame she was, we decided to remove her from that service and get her into public education.

"She was perfectly suited to deliver the message."

Slade lived in Court's Sherwood Park backyard for more than a decade and never caused "too much of a trouble," he said.

"We will miss her."

About the Author

Wallis Snowdon


Wallis Snowdon is a digital journalist with CBC Edmonton. She has nearly a decade of experience reporting behind her. Originally from New Brunswick, her journalism career has taken her from Nova Scotia to Fort McMurray. Share your stories with Wallis at wallis.snowdon@cbc.ca