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Caring for Birds by Karen Walker


We have a fantastic variety of bird life with which we share this island. How many people on the mainland get to chase kaka from their fruit trees, have fat kereru feeding in their gardens, morepork dueting outside, banded rails peeping hopefully in the door or vying with the kingfisher for your garden snails, pateke puddling in the bays, and a multitude of other land and seabirds as part of everyday life? This is what inspired me to learn how to care for sick and injured birds.

Even with the best intentions in the world you can do harm. Iíve made many mistakes myself so here are a few basic doís and doníts to remember which will greatly increase a birds chances of survival.

The first consideration when dealing with wild birds is to remember they are just that ó wild. Tempting as it may be they can never be pets. They have a right to freedom, to fly, and make a choice of environment, food, and a mate.

If you find a sick or injured bird it is important to keep handling and contact with people to a minimum as all handling causes stress. Any wild bird that is very quiet, appears tame or unafraid is a very, very stressed bird ó it canít fly or run away in order to keep a safe distance. And stress is extremely bad news for birds.

Obviously in order to examine and treat birds, handling is necessary but if you havenít had experience of what to look for it is better to leave it to someone who has, thereby eliminating unnecessary handling.

Always keep domestic pets away, as natural predators they cause immediate stress with close proximity.

Because birds cant tell you what is wrong, it can be helpful to watch for a short time ( if circumstances allow) and notice its general behaviour. Is it fluffed up, looking cold and miserable, not trying very hard to escape, can not walk, stand up or fly? Is it normally where you would see that sort of bird? All these observations can be clues for diagnosing the problem. You can always phone if youíre not sure whether to intervene or not.

So what can you do if you find a bird that needs help? If a bird has flown into a window a quiet half hour may see it up and off, providing cats and dogs can be kept away. However, if the bird doesnít look like moving before dark something needs to be done. Same applies to any injured or sick bird that is in danger if left where it is.

A relatively easy method of capture is to throw a towel or sheet (or whatever you have with you) over the bird then pick the whole lot up. This keeps a safe distance from beaks and claws, avoids chasing which is stressful, or grabbing at wings ,tails, or legs. Be wary of beaks near your face and eyes, it is surprising how far a long neck can stretch - seashore birds such as gannets and shags have sharp beaks for hanging onto wriggling fish.

For safe transport a good choice, if possible, is a cardboard box, holes punched into the sides for air and big enough for the bird to turn round. Failing that, whatever is at hand to contain the bird without harming it. Scrunched up newspaper or material of some sort on the bottom avoids the bird slipping round, and place a cover over the top.

Then call Bird Rescue.

Before I collect the bird or if you canít bring it round right away, put the box in a quiet place away from household noise and activity. Avoid anywhere hot Ė feathers are great insulation and birds can overheat easily.

A big Ďno noí is cuddling , patting, kissing, or bringing your face close. This may not worry domestic pets but its really scary for wild birds, a face coming close means youíre going to be eaten.

Never ever wash a bird with soap or shampoo. Birds may need washing in extreme circum-stances and only by an experienced person. Washing removes all the oil from the feathers which is what keeps birds waterproof. Without the oil birds get wet through to their skin and very cold. Theyíre unable to keep warm or fly and can not safely swim. After washing, utmost care is needed until re-oiling is complete.

Experience is equally important when it comes to feeding. Wherever possible a natural diet should be followed ó Iím forever digging up my precious worms, stalking round after insects, collecting berries, or delving in rock pools in my quest for food. Only with a very sick or defiant bird tube or force-feeding may be necessary ó please donít try either. Its very easy for a stressed bird to inhale food which leads to respiratory problems and an otherwise healthy bird might die. A very hungry bird might eat what you put in front of it but because everything is strange, most will initially need help and encouragement.

If you find a baby bird which has fallen from its nest, been too enthusiastic trying to follow its parents or left behind, make every effort possible to find the nest or parents and put the bird back. If you need help with where to look or what to look for, Iím happy to do whatever I can or offer suggestions.

I know its really tempting to keep them ó theyíre all so cute, but replacing the chicks gives them the best chance of relating properly to their own species and going on to raise chicks knowing what to do. Itís really easy to give birds the wrong messages about who feeds them, where to live, what their mates should look like, and what type of food to eat.

The purpose of bird rescue is to help the bird recover, provide rehabilitation, then ultimately release it back into the wild. Knowledge of each birds rehabilitation needs is essential for a successful release. Unfortunately, not every bird can be saved and some must be euthanized but each bird saved is well worth the effort.

I would like to thank all members of the public who have cared enough to contact me about birds in need of help. I can be found at 134 Puriri Rd, Tryphena, just past the stone bridge, or contacted on 4290478.