The new MARS visitor centre tells the story of the birds and other animals who have been through the hospital for treatment. Photo by Mike Chouinard

VIDEO: Vancouver Island wildlife rescuers tell story with new visitor centre

Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society opened visitor centre to support animal work

The folks who protect local flocks are hoping their new visitor centre will help bring in some needed revenue.

The Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society (MARS), which helps nurse birds and other wildlife back to health, recently put out a call for donations to help with costs of looking after animal babies. Now is the time of the year when they have more young birds and other animals in their care.

In June, they also cut the ribbon the new Wildlife Rescue Society Visitor Centre, between the Comox Valley and Campbell River.

“It’s our first-ever home for our education program,” says Pearl McKenzie, vice-president of the MARS board.

RELATED STORY: MARS puts out call for food for eagles on Vancouver Island

The VI Free Daily toured the facility to see what’s on display at the site.

Raising funds is one of the goals, but it’s also a chance for public outreach. The hospital on site is off limits to visitors, as it can cause stress to sick or wounded animals already in distress. As well, the goal is to bring animals back to health and return them to the wild, so MARS members do not want animals getting habituated to humans.

MARS has run its outreach program at public events, schools or seniors’ homes, but the visitor centre allows the public to drop by to learn more.

“What we try and do is link this to the hospital as much as possible,” McKenzie says.

There are lots of displays, with stories of some of the birds that have passed through the centre, as well as those currently in care. At one display, kids can measure their own “wingspan” against those of types of birds. There are models and even an interactive display that plays different bird calls and allows users to guess what they’re hearing.

Also on the property, MARS has several structures to house their educational birds, such as Sawyer the saw-whet owl. These are birds, such as owls and bald eagles, that have been treated, but because of the nature of their injuries, they cannot return to the wild. They act as ambassadors and allow MARS volunteers to teach people more about the community’s feathered friends.

“They can see a real live bird close up that they might not see in nature,” McKenzie says. “We also have little tours out to our ambassador birds.”

With the hospital off limits, this is a way that people can interact with live animals. They have equipped the visitor centre with a camera feed to the hospital, so people can have a long-distance look at animal babies currently in care, such as some baby raccoons playing with stuffed toys, without disturbing them.

“The hospital is bursting with babies, more than we’ve ever had before,” McKenzie says, estimating they have probably brought in more than 100 in recent weeks. “It varies because they come in so fast and sometimes leave and are returned back to their homes, as quickly as we can fix them up.”

RELATED STORY: MARS anticipating influx of orphaned animals

This typically includes birds such as ducklings and baby songbirds but also animals such as the young raccoons or fawns.

MARS bought the nearly-11-acre property five years ago, which started with the hospital, recovery pens and later the homes for the educational birds, prior to the latest addition.

There is still more work to be done on site around the parking area, but that’s an everyday challenge for a group that operating on finite resources. For now, they have accomplished a major goal by opening the new visitor centre and its gift shop, and with a little help, they can bring in some more revenue to continue on the site.

“All of the money we make here goes to support the wildlife hospital,” McKenzie says.

The new visitor centre is located on 1331 Williams Beach Rd., in Merville. It is open Thursdays through Sundays as well as statutory holidays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. For more information, see https://marswildliferescue.com/ or call 778-428-2000.



mike.chouinard@comoxvalleyrecord.com

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MARS volunteer Marie Kennedy visits with Sawyer, the saw-whet owl. Photo by Mike Chouinard

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