COVID changes plans

There's two aspects of what staff and volunteers do at Alberta Birds of Prey, according to Colin Weir, managing director. Located in Coaldale since 1982, the registered charity foundation is Alberta's first privately-licensed raptor rescue and conservation organization.

Firstly, Weir explained, the centre continues to do its ongoing rescue work, which will carry on regardless of the recent COVID-19 pandemic or not. “Or we're hoping it will just carry on, as normal.”

“We're still getting calls for the odd injured birds to come in. We'll still be available on the phone through the entire spring and summer for that. So, there's no change there,” Weir noted, adding calls come in from various locales throughout the southern Alberta region. “We're talking Crowsnest Pass to Medicine Hat, Milk River, and High River.”

Where the big change comes for the centre, Weir added, is with revenue stream to help sustain operations. Normally, the centre is open to the public for visitors, which usually begins May 15.

“We also have school groups that come around and there's retail sales we have through the summer with tourists. Another thing we do is we take our birds to special events across Alberta. We travel to Lake Louise or Banff, Calgary, Edmonton, and Brooks doing special events through the summer. Some are community events and some are corporate events such as company picnics and different American groups visiting,” Weir said. “That brings in a fair amount of revenue for us.”

Weir said the first thing that happened this year was schools cancelled trips to the centre for May and June. “That was always a pretty significant start-off to the season for us for operating revenue.”

One by one, Weir continued, off-site bird presentations have been cancelled, as well.

“We normally would be open May 15, but an opening date for us is completely unknown at this time. There is a possibility we might not even open period, depending on how the transition occurs when the economy starts opening up again. The thing is, we are not really a real essential type of operation, so we will probably be last, I would imagine, to start opening our doors. And then we have to be concerned about, like a sporting event or different events, where there's large gatherings of people,” he said.

Since the centre is usually only open until Labour Day Monday, Weir added, and if the centre is able to open at some point - there would be an expectation of a lot fewer tourists and travellers on the road, as their usually is. “It will be quite a significant drop for us with operating revenue this summer.”

Donations will still be coming into the centre, but Weir expects funds to also be significantly down.

“Just because so many people will be out of work. Some of them have e-mailed us already, to say they probably won't be able to contribute to us this year, because they've lot their jobs,” he said. “It will go into next year. Definitely this year will be the most dramatic and significant. We expect it to extend well into 2021.”

With employees and staff at the centre, Weir said, it's not about the money. “We usually hire about 15 people through the summer. We expect that might drop to maybe two or three. It's unfortunate for us and the summer students. But having said that, we still have a lot of dedicated people.”

“This is just a lifelong passion and way of life for us. The birds will still be looked after and we'll still be carrying on the wildlife rescue work here, regardless of any loss of revenue,” said Weir.

Weir said donations are always accepted and appreciated anytime of year

“A lot of people assume we're a government subsidized facility, but we completely rely on donations and tourism revenues that come through,” Weir added.

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