Pinecrest Elementary students watch with rapt attention as Otis the owl swivels his head around. The kids squeal with surprise as the beleaguered bird relieves himself on their classroom floor.
Otis is one of three birds who acts as an ambassador for the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society, better known as MARS, which rescues ill, injured, orphaned or oiled wildlife. The animals are rehabilitated at the MARS centre in Merville and released.
On this particular day, Otis, a western screech owl, is entertaining kids at Pinecrest school who have taken up the crusade to help financially-strapped MARS stay afloat. A Grade 3 class baked and sold their own dog biscuits – raising $100 – and students in a Grade 5 class made posters advertising MARS’ annual fundraiser, Eaglefest.
MARS spokesperson Sandy Fairfield said the posters will be distributed around Campbell River promoting the family event which takes place Feb. 25 at the Maritime Heritage Centre.
Eaglefest features well-known biologists and conservationists as guest speakers, a photo contest, live birds, exhibits, snacks and more. The event costs $10 per family and is free to members of the society. Above all, Eaglefest is an important fundraiser for MARS, which is facing some tough times.
“We’re strapped for funds,” Fairfield said. “We’re trying to get a constant source of income. If we were to get $1 from every resident in Courtenay and Campbell River we’d have it made. It’s just finding that one break, just finding that one person or one benefactor.”
Fairfield said the mostly-volunteer run society, is running low on money and may have to reduce the amount of animals it takes under its wing.
“We may have to cut back on taking smaller species and be more selective with what we take in, depending on how long it will take to rehabilitate them,” said Fairfield, who notes it costs thousands of dollars to rehabilitate just one eagle.
MARS currently works with more than 50 injured eagles each year, as well as other birds.
Otis is just one example of the type of wildlife MARS has rescued and nursed back to health.
Otis came to the society about a year ago after being hit by a car. The owl flew into the front windshield and damaged his right eye.
Reg Westcott, a wildlife rescue educational outreach worker, said Otis likely has lost all sight in the injured eye. He said the main reason birds get hit by vehicles is due to litter.
“They come around roads because people throw garbage out their car window,” Westcott said. “So a mouse might come out for the garbage and the bird follows the mouse. That’s why we tell people not to throw garbage on the road.”
Fairfield said the Inland Island Highway is a common place for eagles to get hit, because of litter and deer.
The eagles like to feed off deer that have been hit by vehicles and left along the road, Fairfield said.
MARS is about educating the public about its effect on nature and how to reduce that impact so its financial situation won’t force the society to be selective in its rehabilitation.
To boost its funding pool, MARS is also planning a walk-a-thon on Earth Day, April 25 at the Courtenay Air Park.