7 Dec 2023

Rampaging raptors causing havoc along popular walkways

From Checkpoint, 5:53 pm on 7 December 2023

Look, up in the sky - it's a bird, and if you're in the wrong place at the wrong time, it might just be coming for you.

It is the time of year where rampaging raptors are causing havoc along some popular walkways.

There have been several falcon or Karearea attacks, the most recent on a track at Pareora Gorge near Timaru where a man was left with a bloodied after being clawed by a swooping bird.

There have also been incidents in Rotorua and Nelson.

Ron Lindsay is from the New Zealand Raptor Trust, which looks after sick and injured hawks, falcons and owls.

These imposing birds could pack quite a punch when they were angry or scared, though, he said.

"They are dinosaurs. They're basically still dinosaurs."

He told Checkpoint that in the end, the raptors were just following their instincts during nesting season.

"They're just doing what they've always done, protecting the youngsters.

"And when you look at it in perspective, we've moved into their territory, they haven't moved into ours. They were here before we were."

Most animals were pretty territorial about their children, he noted.

"You wouldn't go and pat a lioness's cubs when she was sitting there, would you?"

A full-grown falcon or hawk can cause a lot of damage to the unwary.

"These birds, if they're diving at full speed, they can move at about 200km/h.

"So if you walk into their territory they're gonna come at you pretty fast and it is very daunting."

Lindsay has had birds swoop at him, and said with their sharp talons, it was best to avoid conflict.

"If you're upsetting them, they mean business, so try not to brass them off."

The Raptor Trust helps rehabilitate wounded hawks, falcons and other birds and is just about to release their one hundredth harrier hawk, Lindsay said.

There are also several other groups around the country also helping endangered birds and raptors.

More and more birds are moving into urban areas, raising the chances of incidents.

"They adapt really quickly."

When he worked in Wānaka, "they were attacking everything that moved - dogs, cats, people."

Locals there cleared a big area and left it just to the birds to nest during the season, he said.

Unfortunately, if you are a tramper in raptor territory, there is not always a lot of warning.

"Unless there are signs up you probably won't know until you find this bullet coming toward you.

"It's time to pack up and run. Just get out of the way. Don't try to go through the area.

"Don't take a stick and try to hit them off or anything like that.

"These birds are actually endangered, so if you injure one of the parents it means the chances of the chicks actually being raised become a lot less."

'Run away' may not seem like the best advice, but it is key to allow humans and birds to live together.

"Let them do their things, they're going to be there a couple of months and then move on," Lindsay said. 

The nesting season starts around now, typically, and will last through the summer.