Skip to main content

Pets and animals

When you rescue a sea bird

Summer is in full swing around the Coromandel region and the beaches are welcoming thousands of visitors, some more unusual than others!
 |  Lynn Miller  | 
When you rescue a sea bird

The oceans around New Zealand host millions of marine birds, from giant petrels and albatrosses, to the tiny 50g storm petrels. Sadly, these masters of the oceans also deal with many obstacles that result in them arriving on our beaches and in our backyards unintentionally. It is here the problems really start as it is human nature to want to help these birds, but we need to consider their unique needs before we rush in to take selfies or attempt a rescue mission.

First, do not touch the bird until you have taken the following steps:

Call the DOC hotline 0800 362 468 for advice.

Keep dogs and people away as much as possible.

If you are instructed to pick up the bird, use a towel or item of clothing rather than your bare hands – a seabird’s waterproof feathers are key to its survival. Our hands have oily residues that can transfer to the birds’ feathers and damage their water proofing. This makes their subsequent care much more challenging.

Many of these birds have sharp beaks and claws, so using a towel is doubly important. Handle all birds gently as they may be injured.

If you are transporting the bird in a vehicle, turn off the radio, keep the car cool.

If you need to hold it overnight, DO NOT feed the bird or offer water or any medications. Keep it in a quiet and well-ventilated box or area, on a well-padded surface, and safe from cats, dogs, curious children and neighbours. Please use your quietest voice around the bird, turn the light off and leave them to rest.

The DOC team will guide you to the nearest veterinary clinic or licensed wildlife rehabilitator for transfer into professional care. Please be aware, you must have a permit to hold these birds, even veterinary clinics doing more than stabilizing them are required to obtain the appropriate permits. Our beautiful seabirds are a very special group of birds with very special needs in care. Please also consider sending along a donation for its care to the veterinary clinic or rehabilitator.

One recent case illustrates just how we can help in positive ways as we all work together.

A member of the public called the DOC hotline after finding a seabird on the ground at her work place. The grey-faced petrel fledgling had most probably crash landed the night before. From information gathered from the caller with the team at DOC, it was obvious the bird needed professional care. A ranger was able to collect the bird and bring it to their office where an area has been set aside to help stabilize these protected species. The well-trained DOC team examined the petrel, weighing it and starting the rehydration protocols that we know saves lives. All the handling was done with great care and effort to maintain its waterproofing by wearing gloves and handling it with towels. It was kept overnight and transported to BirdCare Aotearoa the next morning for further care. After a week of care, nourishing food and a Dawn® bath to help ensure the birds waterproofing was 100% (anything less is a death sentence for seabirds), the bird was fit to be released.

Printed in Whangamata News 26 january, 2024.