11 April 2019

A Flying Start

Hidden in a quiet street in Green Bay, a converted three-car garage is home to Auckland’s Bird Rescue Centre. Each year, around 5000 birds of all ages, sizes and in various states of health are cared for and released back into the wild.


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It’s a lucky bird that ends up at the New Zealand Bird Rescue Charitable Trust in West Auckland. Here, for the last 10 years, staff and volunteers have been feeding, sheltering and providing medical care for birds in need.

Often these birds have been found and brought in by concerned members of the public – fledgings that have fallen out of nests and are too young to survive on their own, birds injured by dogs or cats, and other with ailments ranging from broken wings – sometimes from flying into glass windows and doors – to botulism. Volunteers look after wood pigeon chicks, gangly young pukekos, moreporks, kingfishers, gulls, finches, ducks and ducklings, baby tuis, pigeons and dotterel chicks, as well as urban birds like blackbirds, thrushes, silver eyes, starlings and sparrows.

Volunteer services manager Iryll Findlay says one thing people can do to protect birds is to keep their cats inside before dusk and just after dawn. “Brightly coloured scrunchies with a bell make good cat collars and give birds a chance to fly off,” she says. “Equally, it’s really important to have dogs on leads and under control, particularly in bush, on the beach, and other areas where birds are likely to be.”

At this time of the year, people sometimes find baby penguins on the beach. “During the day the parents go out and feed. If the baby penguins are on the beach and in the open they could be in trouble, but if they are in a nest or rocky cavity, they should be left alone,” says Iryll.

Summer is the centre’s busiest time of the year, and volunteers are likely to be caring for around 40-50 new arrivals a day. On a typical day, people call into the centre and staff assess each new patient, pop them into specialised boxes and deposit them with the other boxes of birds. Volunteers move along the rows, dropping peas, corn and carrots, lettuce and tins of kitten food into the gaping mouths of literally hundreds of hungry birds. Birds needing surgery and treatment make the trip to CareVets in Glen Eden, where they receive the best possible treatment from ex-zoo vet and bird expert Dr Berend Westera, and his staff.

A trust set up by a local woman, the Jocelyn Gratton Trust, allows the Bird Rescue Centre to operate from the Green Bay property. When the centre opened here 10 years ago, the house and grounds were run down, so the trust has spent a lot of time, helped by the local community, tidying up the grounds and making it suitable for use as a bird rescue centre. The 15 hectares of land, much of it protected native bush, stretches from the main road down to the water at Green Bay. The bird rescue operation is run from the garage, which is the hospital for baby and injured birds, while aviaries and cages in the nearby paddocks contain birds at the next stage of care.

Once birds are old enough or well enough to go outside they are released into aviaries with other birds of the same species. “We always try to keep the birds in species pairs or groups so they learn to identify and socialise with their own types. If we have only one bird in a particular species, and we can’t find a mate for it at another centre, we give it a mirror, and try to make sure it doesn’t have too much human contact.""The whole idea is to return the birds to the wild, not to have them as pets,” hospital manager Lyn Macdonald says.

The centre favours the “soft release” method, so some baby birds spend eight or nine weeks at the centre, two or three weeks inside, then four weeks in an aviary outside, being fed by volunteers and getting used to being in a larger area.

A lot of birds have homing instincts, so where possible they are released back where they originally came from. But with 20 or 30 baby tuis or pigeons or sparrows in the centre at any one time, it’s not possible to keep them separate, or even tell which bird came from where, so they’re often released in groups into bush. Pigeons, which have particularly strong homing instincts, are kept outside in covered cages until they are released – to avoid them thinking the centre is home.

Exotic cage birds sometimes wind up at the centre. Often people find them in their gardens – lorikeets, budgerigars, canaries, cockatiels – and as they can’t be released into the wild, the centre adopts them out through Trademe. Potential new owners are carefully vetted to make sure they understand what the bird needs and that it will have a good home.

The centre’s focus is animal welfare rather than conservation, so it accepts both native and exotic birds. “We recognise it is important to have natives, so we do more work for them, but if an exotic comes in with a simple break, we will fix it,” Lyn says.

Over the years, the centre has had its fair share of funny experiences. Lyn remembers a woman calling to say her husband had seen a kiwi on Sandringham Road. “Are you sure it was a kiwi?” “Oh, yes, we’ve seen them at the zoo.” Needless to say, it wasn’t a kiwi; more likely a hedgehog, says Lyn. Another surprise visitor came with two boys who called to say they had an albatross in a lawn mower box. Lyn expected to see a large black-backed gull. “But it turned out to be a Molly Mawk, which is a species of albatross, and twice as big as a black-backed gull.”

The Bird Rescue Centre was originally established in 1984 and Lyn has been part since those days. She joined as a single mother with four children: “I went to a talk by the founding members, and offered to help, so began by having birds at my home, feeding and looking after them.”

Lyn is helped by a team of staff, plus a large team of around 60 volunteers who work on rostered shifts. Every day mountains of fruit and vegetables have to be chopped, and the laundry is never-ending, with the washing machine doing about five loads of towels and cloths most days and up to 15 loads in the busy season. Volunteers often specialise in different areas, looking after exotic cage birds, coping with new arrivals and baby birds, or working outside overseeing bigger birds and those being readied for release.

The trust’s vision is to build a Bird Rescue Hospital and Rehabilitation Centre on the Green Bay site and develop it into a world-class facility. In the meantime, the dedicated volunteers are doing the best they can from the garage headquarters. Feeding and caring for the feathered inmates is costly, and the centre is grateful for all donations of food and other items.

What To Do If You Find A Bird

Birds can be dropped into the Green Bay Bird Rescue Centre at 74 Avonleigh Road, Green Bay, Waitakere between 8am and 4pm, and there is no need to call first. Phone: (09) 816 9219. www.birdrescue.org.nz

Would You Like To Donate?

The centre's wishlist is: Kitten food (chicken/beef), Paper towels, Tissues, All kinds of Bird seed, Puppy food, Dog biscuits, Washing machine powder (unscented), & Newspapers.

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