Photo: Christian Fritschi
The province of Québec is home to 27 species of birds of prey, 3 of which are considered vulnerable, and 2 of which are on the endangered list
Through its network, UQROP takes in and cares for approximately 400 injured birds of prey, close to half of which will be released back into the wild
Every year, nearly 10,000 individuals visit the Chouette à voir! site, and UQROP educators, along with 2 ambassador birds of prey, go out and meet over 10,400 people, including 8,000 students
The province of Québec’s vast and sparsely populated territory is home to 27 different species of birds of prey, each of them playing an integral role in the ecological balance of our environment and serving as indicators of its state of health. As predators near the top of the food chain, these birds help control the population size of other animals—small mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and even large insects—and keep them healthy.
Although protected under provincial law, many of these species remain vulnerable or endangered. With this in mind, Guy Fitzgerald, then a student of veterinary medicine, set out to found a non-profit organization that would not only preserve the province’s birds of prey, but also protect their natural habitats. In 1987, the Union québécoise de réhabilitation des oiseaux de proie (UQROP) was founded. Its original partners were the Macdonald Raptor Research Centre, the Québec City Zoo, the Birds of Prey Clinic of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Université de Montréal and the Wildlife Conservation Service of the Ministry of Recreation, Fish and Game of Québec.
For over 30 years, UQROP has fulfilled its threefold role of conservation, rehabilitation and education. Now, through the UQROP network, every year close to 450 injured, sick or orphaned birds of prey from throughout Québec are sent by wildlife protection agencies, veterinary clinics and volunteers to be cared for by the Birds of Prey Clinic at the Université de Montréal’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine—all thanks to an agreement with a fast courier service that is unique in North America. Following their treatment, in order to ensure the birds are in good physical condition before being released back into the wild, they have a stay at UQROP’s Chouette à voir! rehabilitation facility in Saint-Jude.
Central to the organization’s mission of education is the goal of raising awareness amongst the public of the importance of preserving and protecting these wild birds. Through a number of educational programs, organizers hope children and adults will learn about the various species of birds of prey native to Québec, the threats they face, and the actions that can be taken to protect them and their natural habitats for generations to come. To this end, UQROP has developed two flagship initiatives.
The first, introduced in 1990, is appropriately named Chouette at School! It puts UQROP educators, along with two ambassador birds, right in the classroom in an effort to demystify the biology of birds of prey and talk about their relationship with humans. Educational kits meeting Ministry of Education requirements are also provided to ensure an exciting learning experience. Every year, close to 350 such presentations are given in schools as well as parks, libraries and community centres.
The second initiative, which opened in 1996, is called Chouette à voir! This is the place that enables the public to see the rehabilitation work being done by UQROP and educates them about the importance of birds of prey. Throughout the summer and on fall weekends, there the public can attend presentations of birds of prey in flight, stroll along the paths set among aviaries, visit the rehabilitation facility, and have the opportunity to watch a bird released back into the wild. The sense of wonder resulting from the experience is key to raising awareness of the need and prompting the desire to protect such magnificent, noble creatures. Moreover, the centre opens its doors to school groups in the spring and fall to give young people the chance to learn about the fascinating world of birds of prey in nature.
Through these programs, UQROP continues to fulfill its founding mission of educating the public, in particular children, on the importance of environmental and animal conservation, as well as developing effective solutions to preserve birds of prey and their natural habitats.
“Power Corporation of Canada is proud to help UQROP spread its wings and head toward the future. The planned interpretation centre will enable the Chouette à voir! site to open year-round and offer a unique ecotourism attraction,” says Lorraine Gagnon, Director, Corporate Communications and Sustainability. “The opportunity to interact up close with live species of birds of prey native to Québec is always a highlight for the young and not so young.”