South Okanagan centre offers second chance to injured birds

New medical clinic in the works at South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls

Lauren Meads with Houdini

Lauren Meads with Houdini

Lauren Meads’ life these days is entirely for the birds, just the way she likes it.

Since taking over operations of the South Okanagan Rehab Centre for Owls (SORCO) last spring, her work has been a mix of caring for the sick and injured, overseeing improvements to the Oliver facilities and helping save an endangered species.

And if that is not enough, she even finds a little spare time to do some fundraising as well.

“There’s no question it’s a lot work but I really enjoy it,” said Meads, whose resume includes everything from university degrees in wildlife management to working at a zoo. “We also have pretty much a full house right now at the centre which isn’t too unusual, especially with the increase in traffic, we have a lot of birds that get hit by cars.”

Meads took over the job of managing the SORCO operations earlier this year from Ken Fujino, who inherited the position Sherri Klein.

A former conservation officer, Klein founded the centre in 1987 and ran it for the next 11 years, caring for over 1,000 raptors, many of which were eventually released back into the wild.

Located just north of Oliver near Vaseux Lake, the facility is only open to the public for special events, such as the annual open house, to keep interaction between the birds and people to a minimum.

Prior to moving into her current position, Meads has been an integral part of the Burrowing Owl Conservation Society’s efforts to bring the population of the endangered species (in Canada) back to sustainable levels.

At the time she was approached about managing SORCO, she felt doing the two jobs in conjunction with each other would be a good fit.

“I like the fact we have both programs on the same property. It’s two separate non-profits: you’ve got the burrowing owls, which is the conservation of a population, and then you have the rehab centre, which is the conservation of individuals, but they both have a really strong community aspect,” said Meads. “I also have experience working with other kinds of raptors as well and I don’t think many people realize what a wide variety of birds of prey we have in the Okanagan Valley. We have such a varied landscape, grasslands, forests and lots of water as well, we have pretty much every kind of bird here that you would have in the rest of Canada because of this unique ecosystem.”

Near to her heart though are the burrowing owls.

The small raptors are the only one of their species which nest on the ground, usually in abandoned badger dens but more recently in human-made burrows, and one of the few which are more social, unlike their solitary cousins.

A breeding facility was opened in the region last year, bringing the number of sites to two in the South Okanagan, to go along with the 14 others in Kamloops.

The society recently received 15 owls from Oregon to add to the program.

Eight pairs were released and about 30 young were produced.

“They do well here because this is their natural habitat and the food source is really good,” said Meads. “The only issue we have right now is that they do migrate, so we’re working with the Americans to do a bit more about protecting habitat along the migration route.”

This region is the northern most for the owl.

The manager is currently overseeing the construction of a new medical clinic at the facility and is hoping to raise awareness and support for the project among the public.

“It’s like everything else, no matter how much you have, it always seems there is more you need,” she said. “But the people here are really great, they are very excited about the work that is going on and have helped us a lot.”

Anyone interested in assisting the organizations can contact the centre at 250-498-4251.