Inspiring conservancy with owls

Dr. James Duncan with Rusty, a three and a half year old female Long Eared Owl.

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Dr. James Duncan said the Discovery Nature Sanctuary in Winkler, is an example to all.
The guest speaker at a Nov. 9 fundraiser at Northlands Parkway Collegiate, Duncan praised the local facility.
“I was working with Wildlife and Fisheries Branch for over 20 years,” the biologist said. “The model and the purpose and function of the Discovery Nature Sanctuary is kind of the embodiment of what we try to do everywhere in the province.”
Duncan is now with an organization called Discover Owls.
He brought Rusty, a three and a half year old female Long Eared Owl along for his talk called “Up Close and Personal with Manitoba’s Great Gray and other Owls”. The Long Eared Owl can be found anywhere there’s trees in Manitoba from Sprague to Melita and north to Churchill. It is a species that migrates.
The dessert fundraiser was held to raise money for an outdoor classroom.
Although much of his message revolves around owls, Duncan said it’s also a great way to reach people on the general topic of wildlife habitat.
“There’s lots of ways for people to get involved with wildlife, owls included,” he said. “The goal is to make wildlife, owls or nature a part of people’s lives.”
“If you love something, you’re more likely to take care of it,” he added.
Maintaining wildlife habitat in Manitoba is done through many ways, such as provincial parks, wildlife management areas or working with landowners who Duncan said own most of the land in southern Manitoba.
He said the message is getting through, but was hesitant to say they are making great strides.
“I think we’re kind of holding our own at this point, but there’s always pressure on wildlife habitat for many reasons,” he said.
Some of the solutions have come from those who use the land to make a living.
“We’re working with the beef producers,” he said. “They are actually responsible for the conservation of lots and lots of remaining prairie in Manitoba which is essential for a lot of species.”
People don’t have to own large swaths of land to make a positive impact.
Duncan said people can choose to plant native flowering plants, or leave their yards a little messier in the fall for ground cover. “There’s so many little things you can do even if you own property in an urban area to help wildlife,” he said.
He added that supporting initiatives like the Discovery Nature Sanctuary is also important. “That’s why I’m happy to help with this cause,” he said.
Duncan’s interest in wildlife began at a very early age, and he said he was encouraged and supported by his parents. “They had to put up with all manner of animal parts in the freezer and they really allowed that aptitude and interest to flourish,” he said.
His interest in owls developed after he had a chance to work closely on a project near Montreal. “We developed a program where the public could come out, we would guide them through the woods at night and we would call up owls,” he said. “It was fascinating.”
Duncan had an opportunity to come to Manitoba and study the Great Gray Owl with a former professor. “I did that, and I was so enthralled with Manitoba that I never went back to Quebec,” he said. “Now I’m retired and I do the owl work full time.”
Duncan has a goal when he visits communities like Winkler. “I certainly want to make them aware of the amazing diversity of life in Manitoba,” he said. “We’ve got 12 species of owls which is pretty great, we’ve also got 40,000 species of plants and animals.”
Duncan has a positive view of what many see as a negative.
“You often hear some of the challenges that conservation is facing in terms of the number of people and the impact on earth,” he said. “But the large group of people that make up our society is also an amazing resource.”

Dr. James Duncan with Rusty, a three and a half year old female Long Eared Owl.

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