Late Ontario winter weather starving birds of prey

A late winter blast in Ontario has birds of prey scrambling to find food and showing up weak and emaciated at bird sanctuaries and animal rescue clinics.

Five emaciated birds found in 24-hour span in Windsor-Essex area

A late winter blast in Southern Ontario has birds of prey scrambling to find food.

Several are showing up at bird sanctuaries and animal rescue clinics, weak and emaciated.

During a 24-hour span this week, three hawks and two owls were brought to Wings Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre in Amherstburg, Ont., south of Windsor.

"When February and March come, we see the aftermath of winter," said Nancy Phillips, who cares for the birds. "Because it’s been a longer and extended — and unpredictable — winter, we’re seeing things come in emaciated. They’re on their last reserve of fat.

"What happens is, the mouse population is more dormant in the winter. So the birds aren’t finding what they need out there."

Of the five birds brought to Wings, four survived.

"We need to get them as soon as people spot them on the ground," Phillips said. "Some are so weak they can’t eat on their own."

Phillips feeds the birds mild beef, seasoned with vitamins, by hand up to eight times a day.

"A lot of them are younger ones from last year and they aren’t experienced at getting through the winter and finding prey," she said. "As long as they’re depleted, they’re kept in care."

The birds currently at Wings will stay put until the weather warms up, Phillips said.

Pathologist Doug Campbell, from Canadian Co-operative Wildlife Health Centre in Guelph, said young birds are most at risk.

"When you look at birds that hunt, there’s a certain level of skill they need to acquire to do it well," Campbell said. "The younger birds are therefore at a bit more risk. They’re still developing their talents."

He said the problem of emaciation is common, but has been worse this year.

"It’s not necessarily been a harsher winter than is typical, but a lot of the winter weather came late this year. At the time of year, when these birds would have already used up their reserves, we got more winter and that stressed them more," Campbell said.

Environment Canada senior climatologist Dave Phillips said February was one of the snowiest on record in Ontario. Some places, he said, received three times the average snowfall.

Windsor-Essex received approximately twice the average. That was followed by below-normal temperatures in March, when the average was zero.

Winter arrived late and stayed longer in Ontario this year.

"Winter had vanished by this time last year," Phillips said.