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Northland native birds near starvation

Native birds are on the brink of starvation in drought-stricken Northland, with many young kiwi chicks dying of thirst or hunger.

Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre director Robert Webb said the volunteer-run bird hospital had been overwhelmed by native birds since December, including seven North Island kiwi and about 40 kereru, or native wood pigeons.

The hard, dry soil had been especially troublesome for kiwi from November through February, when vulnerable chicks were hatching.

“There’s just no hope in hell that they’re going to get any of the insects or grubs like they should be getting. They just can’t probe the ground at all because their little beak is just too soft,” Mr Webb told NZPA.

“It’s been playing real havoc on them, and I’d hate to think how many we’ve missed out finding or being sent in to us. It’s quite grim actually.”

Kiwi had been forced out of their natural bush habitats and into unfamiliar rural environments in their search for food, Mr Webb said.

“All of a sudden they’re caught out there during daylight…the hot sun comes out and bang, it virtually cooks them.”

Some kiwi had died of botulism caught from ponds when there were no nearby streams or creeks on farms, while others had been poisoned by larvae growing in the decomposing corpses of poisoned possums and rabbits, which kiwi sought out in their desperation.

The Bird Recovery Centre is currently nursing five kiwi back to health, including three-week-old Puddles, who was found collapsed in a puddle by visitors to Trounson Park in the Northern Wairoa last month.

“We were able to get medication to him and fresh water and everything, and he’s pulled out of it and he’s coming along right,” Mr Webb said.

Three other chicks would have to be cared for until the drought was over.

“If we let those chicks go, we’ll be sending them out to their death.”

Other young native birds had also been affected by the drought, such as kereru, which had suffered from a scarcity of fruit and berries on native trees.

About 40 kereru, known as kukupa or kuku in Northland, had been brought to the centre in the two weeks leading up to Christmas alone, Mr Webb said.

Ruru, commonly known as moreporks, were also suffering, with parents tossing the weakest chicks from their nests so the strongest could survive.

Mr Webb said the drought had “overloaded” the centre which he established with his wife Robyn 19 years ago.

It cost about $150 a day to care for all the birds, all of which came from donations.

“All our funds and donations are getting gobbled up because of the extra amount of work with the birds,” he said.

“We’re asking people if they’d like to sponsor a kiwi or a bird.”

The centre has a $20-a-month sponsorship programme, and is happy to accept one-off donations.

 – NZHERALD, NZPA

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