Injured falcon faces long recovery
Archived content: This media release was accurate on the date of publication.
IntroductionThe discovery of an injured juvenile New Zealand falcon/kārearea near Rotorua serves as a reminder the young birds are more visible in autumn, say experts.
Date: 31 March 2022
The young male bird – estimated to be about four months old – was found by two members of the public in early March and has been in the care of Wingspan National Bird of Prey Centre where it faces at least another month of recovery and rehabilitation.
The young bird, with a wound under one wing, was passed on to a local SPCA officer who in turn took it to Wingspan, where staff alerted the DOC.
It’s unclear what caused the animal’s injury, but possibilities include a collision with an object, an attack by another bird or animal, or even some sort of human interaction.
A DOC investigation into how the kārearea came to be injured is ongoing. Anyone with information that might assist is urged to contact 0800 DOC HOT (0800 362 468).
Wingspan Executive Director Debbie Stewart says x-rays of the bird have revealed two broken bones in its right wing.
“It’s going to take about four weeks for him to heal and for his bones to calcify,” Debbie Stewart says.
The kārearea was initially kept in close confinement at Wingspan, so he could not extend his wing and compromise the healing process. He was subsequently moved to a secluded aviary, and – encouragingly – he was able to reach a perch 1.2 m off the ground.
Wingspan staff have handled the bird as little as possible and have been encouraged by its continued appetite, weight gain and slow but steady recovery.
The bird came from Lake Rotomā - only a few kilometres from Rotorua – but Debbie Stewart says it’s not certain he’ll be returned there before winter.
“It’s not ideal to release a juvenile, unfit and recovering bird back into the wild as we head into colder wetter weather,” she says. “The best option may be to release him at a different time of year.”
Debbie Stewart says it’s important people realise young birds can be vulnerable, make mistakes – and find themselves in difficult predicaments.
“Just because they have wings, they don’t always have a pilot’s licence!” she says.
Dr Laurence Barea, a DOC Principal Ecology Advisor with extensive experience with kārearea, says juveniles are more frequently seen at this time of year – including in or near urban areas – as they become independent from parents and seek out their own territory.
“Until they establish a territory they wander widely,” he says. “Towns usually are home to large numbers of sparrows and other prey birds and that may be why kārearea are often seen in rural towns in autumn and early winter.”
Laurence Barea says the young bird would have been unlikely to survive without the intervention of the members of the public who found him.
Anyone who discovers an injured kārearea should place the bird in a dark box (not a wire cage) with towel in the bottom, before taking the bird to the local DOC office.
He says kārearea face a range of threats from introduced pests, collision with human-made objects (including fences, windows, and uninsulated power pole isolators and transformers), disturbance of their nests and interactions with people while defending their nests.
“The best thing people can do is leave these birds alone: if you’re attacked near a kārearea nest, retreat until the bird stops. People can help protect kārearea by supporting local conservation organisations and getting involved in predator control.”
Although one of 38 falcon species worldwide, kārearea are only found in New Zealand. They prey on smaller bird species, with introduced birds a major part of their diet. They will also eat small mammals, lizards and flying insects – particularly juvenile birds, as they learn to hunt.
The national kārearea population is estimated to be between 5000 and 8000, and they are commonly found south of Waikato.
Wingspan also holds a national register for falcon sightings and reports, which keeps a pulse on populations of kārearea in the wild.
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