The storm whipping up high seas on the west coast of the North Island is having an effect on many species of seabirds some of which have been found in an exhausted state as far inland as Hamilton, says John Gumbley, Programme Manager Biodiversity, for the Department of Conservation. Reports have been received of dozens of seabirds being found all along the west coast with many people phoning DOC to seek advice.
Seabirds can be left to fend for themselves in what is a naturally occurring event. If birds are found on the beach it is DOC’s recommendation to leave them to recover in a sheltered location. If you are near the beach just return birds to the coast. All birds should be returned on the nearest fine day – this weekend at the latest.
If birds are found on your property and you feel you would like to assist in the bird’s recovery then there are a few helpful things to be done. Be aware though that these birds are stressed and may well die for all your good intentions. Caring for a bird beyond about 2-3 days starts becoming reasonably technical and you may add to the animal’s stress. For short term care there are few things you can try.
Most seabirds that come ashore are in a dehydrated condition and having water available will assist. Freshwater is okay for the first two days but after that it is vitally important that seabirds be given salt water rather than fresh.
Very sick birds initially should be kept in a quiet warm draught-free environment until their conditions improve.
Some of these are potentially dangerous birds. Many are capable of inflicting severe damage especially to the eyes and limbs. The head and feet should be secure when handling the bird and a large towel can be useful when moving or catching them. Large birds should not be handled until a professional is consulted.
Seabirds can be housed in a cardboard box with soft bedding and large enough to allow the bird to stand and stretch. Protect birds from predators especially cats.
In general seabirds will not readily take food when in captivity. Do not force feed. Finely chopped small portions of pilchards/fish meat placed in a dish of water should be okay. For short term care though the priority is about enabling the bird to safely rest and rehydrate.
When feeding the bird, remember that fresh is best. Tinned fish is not suitable though fish canned in spring water may be useful in an emergency.
The release site should ideally be where the bird was found. Most can be released on the beach or shoreline - not from high cliffs. Early morning on the first fine day and in a calm estuary, where the bird is not going to be battered by waves, allowing it to regain its flight capabilities at its own pace, is ideal.