18 Jan 2020

Saving wild birds at The South Island Wildlife Hospital

From The Weekend with Karyn Hay , 8:45 am on 18 January 2020

Three kea with lead poisoning, seven owls and just as many kererū, a baby kingfisher and an underweight spoonbill are among the summer patients at a Christchurch wildlife hospital, during its busiest time of the year with it being breeding season.

The Wildlife Veterinary Trust opened the hospital in December 2014 and since then has taken in hundreds of sick and injured animals - primarily but not exclusively native species.

It's staffed by volunteers many of them taking patients home to treat them there especially when they need frequent feeds and medical care.

Pauline Howard from the South Island Wildlife Hospital said quick action was often vital if people come across an ill or injured bird. 

"Sometimes just getting to the vet clinic with a broken wing immediately rather than the next day can make all the difference because if there's an open fracture we can do something the first day but we can do something the next."

She said most bird rescues were seasonal. 

"At the moment we're just at the end of the owl season and into kererū, black-backed gulls ... at the moment they're fledging and when they drop off buildings usually their parents would feed them but people pick them up and we try and raise them and let them go."

Howard said often fledgelings were watched by the parents who would later come and help them.

And if a nest had blown out of a tree, she suggested trying to put it back.

"It's a bit of a fallacy that once you touch them, the parents won't come back - they do tend to come back."

She said putting off chopping trees to after the breeding season would help the bird population.

"We've had an injured bat, unfortunately, it had a broken wing and we had to euthanise it."

As for birds getting too acquainted with their carers, Howard said often shags would associate the person feeding them as food too. So, the team has had to wear balaclavas or gumboots to change appearance to avoid being bitten.

They've had geckos, skanks and a few reptiles, and a big range of birds come through.

"The end goal is always to release them."