rescues were brisk during the first month of the new year with 42 birds attended and several major releases. Added to the December total that’s more than one hundred rescues in the past two months.
You could be excused for thinking our little friend at left is basking on a nice towel at the beach. But of course you know better. My hairy mit holding her down is a bit of a giveaway. She’d been seen limping on the Labrador foreshore by caller Jodie who’s a bit of an ‘ibis magnet’; something she’d be the first to admit. Jodie made the call and I got there within 10 minutes but the bird had already flown. It took another three days to track her down. Fortunately she was a quick catch. She’s also a very lucky girl because there’s another band of braid buried deep underneath the skin below the wrap that’s visible. Over time this would have cut her foot clean off at the ankle. The pain during those months doesn’t bear thinking about.
For new readers this is a typical fishing line entanglement the ibis picked up while foraging for food. Entanglements occur because inconsiderate, littering fishermen drop lengths of unwanted fishing line on the ground instead of disposing of them properly in a rubbish bin. Being plastic, and therefore almost indestructible, nylon fishing line persists in the environment for years. It’s a lethal death trap sitting in wait for any creature unlucky enough to walk across it … same as a land mine.
I removed the wraps of braid from the ibis’ foot and ankle before dousing the wound in dilute betadine, then setting her free. She’ll limp for a few days but will heal quickly and should feel much better within a week.
Please bear with me while I continue this topic for two more paragraphs and tell you about another little fellow’s short and miserable life thanks to ‘Australia’s most popular sport’. Maybe this will give his life some meaning.
He’s a wood duck I named Michael. Sometime early on he’d either walked through fishing line laying on the ground, or he’d swam through a fisher’s line and become entangled. In the latter case the fisher must have cut the line and let the panicked bird swim away, as most do, without attempting to untangle him or call for help. Either way fishing line was now tightly wrapped around the duck’s upper left leg.
When I caught Michael I noticed that he was very small; much too small for his age. I put this down to the relentless pain of the injury. In the end, after months of suffering, he could barely even hop and he smelt terrible, indicating that his system was toxic.
I took Michael to hospital were Dr. Camile agreed to stretch the rules and consider amputating his dead left leg. I assured her that he could have an OK life with just the one leg, but sadly blood tests confirmed our suspicion that he’d already developed too much toxicity from the injury and was beyond help. He was put to sleep. The only good things to come from this is that Michael is no longer suffering and his story has been told.
On a lighter note, I thought I’d share some details about how wildlife rescues services operate on the Gold Coast.
The two largest organisations, Wildcare and the RSPCA, rescue sick or injured native birds and animals here and in surrounding areas. RSPCA also rescues domestic animals, in fact these are given priority over native species.
All of Wildcare’s people are volunteers. Some Wildcare rescuers are very experienced, especially those involved with roos, koalas and bats, however the majority are inexperienced and therefore only able to attend basic rescues. Wildcare offers comprehensive trainings for people wanting to care for wildlife and the organisation oversees a large group of established carers many of whom are extremely knowledgeable. www.wildcare.org.au
The RSPCA operates two full time rescue ambulances out of Brisbane. These are manned by paid officers. The two vehicles operate around the clock and service all of Brisbane and surrounds, including the Goldie. It’s a huge area. At present the officers are all women … no particular reason for that … and all are very good at their job.
At right is former volunteer ambo driver Dani, now a full time RSPCA officer.
The RSPCA also operates a volunteer ambo service on the Gold Coast (and one in Logan). Recently Currumbin Wildlife Hospital introduced their own volunteer ambo service. These two local volly ambos mostly do pick-ups of sick or injured wildlife from vet clinics for transport to hospital. Ambo volunteers also attend basic rescues and facilitate the release of creatures being discharged from hospital. Complex or after hours rescues are mostly handled by either of the two RSPCA Brisbane ambos which necessitates making regular trips to the Gold Coast. We hope that in the near future the RSPCA will assign a full time ambo officer and vehicle to the Gold Coast. They’ve had this in the past. It would take a huge amount of pressure off the two Brisbane based ambos.
So where does Wild Bird Rescues fit into all of this?
To answer that question one needs to know something about the ‘fine art’ of bird rescue. Although there are hundreds of species of birds, for the purpose of wildlife rescue a sick or injured bird will fit into just one of two categories. These are … birds that can still fly, and birds that can’t fly.
Most fish hooked or fishing line entangled birds can still fly and will do so very smartly if approached. Same is true for birds suffering from a broken leg, broken beak or an illness like tassel foot (currawongs), beak and feather disease (parrots), or bird pox which affects all species. I can add to this list an ibis I caught yesterday in the dining area of a Gold Coast restaurant that swallow a kebab and had the skewer sticking out the side of its neck (ouch!). Birds that can still fly are termed ‘flight capable’. Typically they will not allow a rescuer to approach.
The second category are birds that can no longer fly. This includes birds that have been hit by a car and sustained a spinal injury or broken wing, both common injuries. Or a bird might just be young and pre-flight, or it might be suffering from illness that prevents it getting airborne. Whatever the reason these birds aren’t going anywhere which means even the most inexperienced rescuer, in possession of some nouse and basic equipment, can attend the rescue. However, an inexperienced rescuer has little hope of catching a flight capable bird. Even the professional RSPCA ambo officers are limited in their ability to catch ‘flight capables’. Ambo’s are further hampered because they could be a hundred kilometres away from the Gold Coast when the call comes in and the officer might have half a dozen other jobs to deal with first. It’s likely to be hours, or even the next day, before they can get there. By then an injured flight capable bird will be long gone.
I’m a volunteer bird rescuer and the most experienced catcher of ‘flight capable’ birds on the Gold Coast. In fact I’m the only full time catcher here. When you consider that two thirds of all admissions to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital are birds, and the hospital admits between 25 and 40 sick or injured creatures every day, you can see the need is great.
I drop everything and go whenever a critical call comes in for a flight capable bird, the majority being for birds that are hooked or entangled in fishing line or some other material. This rapid response offers the best chance of finding the bird, which is the first step in catching it. Any delay and the creature could take to the air, or swim away and disappear, within seconds. Can’t catch what you can’t find. WBR saves hundreds of birds every year that would otherwise not get caught. This specialist capture service dovetails very nicely with the broader, more general services offered by other groups. Together we have the Gold Coast well covered.
Immediately south of the Goldie, in the Coolangatta/Tweed area, Mary Grant (0403-061968) from Tweed Valley Wildlife Carers also specialises in catching flight capable birds. Mary, aka … ‘The Blue Bird of Happiness’, is an excellent catcher and a very experienced carer of seabirds. North of the Goldie, from Cabbage Tree on up to Brisbane including northern Brisbane, is Hammy Forest of Pelican and Seabird Rescue Brisbane (0404-118301). ‘The Hamster’ also specialises in ‘flight capables’ and does excellent work. Between the three of us we provide a rescue service for birds along one hundred and fifty kilometres of coastline.
At right is Marnie. Poor little takka has had a rough trot lately. When I first caught her in Clear Island Waters Marnie was 3 months old and unable to walk because of a life threatening fish hook buried in her left ankle. A hook lodged deep in a joint is nearly always fatal unless discovered quickly and surgically removed. The vets at Currumbin Wildlife Hospital saved her life by removing the hook but also noticed that Marnie had a floppy right wing. Not good. A bird with a broken wing can’t be released. In Marnie’s case it was more like stretched ligaments. Her wing was strapped up into position in the hope it would hold, but this takes time … lots of time.
The procedure was partially successful. Two months on and the wing was still a bit ‘hangy’, but it was better. Mind you the vets are quite fussy and like to do a good job, whereas I’m a bit rough and ready and was delighted with the outcome. No qualms about releasing her immediately.
I didn’t return Marnie to Clear Island Waters because she would have attempted to re-unite with her parents. At 5 months old and fully fledged it’s unlikely that mum and dad would accept her. Truth is they’d probably beat the crap out of her. The last thing we wanted was for Marnie to get into a territorial dispute with powerful adult birds and damage that wing again. So, I released her a couple of kilometres south on the same waterway, amongst a large group of sub-adult swans. They were very accepting of Marnie.
But the bliss didn’t last. A few days later a homeowner in the area reported a swan standing on his front lawn with it’s right wing wrapped in bandages and duct tape. Uh oh. I know who that is, and I’ve got a pretty good idea about who’s responsible.
We’ve had some problems with a fellow living ‘rough’ in the area who’s interfered with birds in the past. He loves birds and genuinely believes he’s doing the right thing, but of course, he isn’t. Apparently it began when he took a bird with a broken wing to hospital and the creature was put down. This is routine. Only minor wing breaks have any hope of repair. Since then he tries to mend birds himself but his efforts invariably cause more problems than they fix. The RSPCA has spoken to him and told him that he mustn’t touch wildlife. But apparently for him a swan with a draggy wing is like catnip to a Tom. He just can’t resist. Marnie was a sitting duck (sorry). I was angry with this bloke after the first incident occurred a year ago, but when I compare his minor interferences with the wholesale carnage wrought on hundreds of innocent birds every year in this area alone by fishermen who should know better, I can find tolerance.
By the time the caller got off the phone Marnie had left the lawn and disappeared onto the lake. It was late and getting dark. Very hard to spot a black swan on a black lake during a black night. I headed out there first thing next morning and located Marnie quickly. Wasn’t hard to spot her. She looked like a smaller version of ‘The Mummy’. After months in hospital she’s quite humanised and came waddling up hoping for some tucker.
The bandages and tape on her right wing would have prevented flight, but otherwise no damage had been done. The only way to keep her safe was to relocate to where Mr. Catnip wouldn’t find her. I stripped Marnie of the ‘dressings’ and bundled her into my car. Poor thing probably thought, ‘oh crap, not this again. I’ve spent more time in this bloke’s car than I have in the bloody lake!’
This time released her closer to home on Clear Island Waters (pic above). It was a bit of a risk but safer than the alternative. As you can see her right wing is quilly and slightly dropped, but its OK. For the next two weeks I fielded calls from concerned locals about a very friendly swan that appeared to have something wrong with its wing. ‘Is she alright’, they’d ask. ‘She’s OK now’, I’d tell them.
Wild Bird Rescues helps native wildlife, although truth is I’ll help any bird in need: native, feral, farm or otherwise. For me there’s no difference. All deserve decent care. So, if you eat chicken, duck or turkey I urge you to consider the quality of poultry that you purchase. By ‘quality’ I mean ‘how they were raised’. In the time it took me to rescue 42 injured native birds last month, some 10,000,000 chickens in Australia were being held in obscenely cruel conditions by farmers exempt from cruelty laws that apply to domestic pets and wildlife. Some in the retail sector try to justify their involvement in this by claiming ‘the public demands cheaper prices’ while most just turn a blind eye. The whole business is shameful. I urge you to never accept anything less than ‘free range’ when buying poultry or eggs. Far better is to choose ‘open range/pasture fed’ or ‘biodynamic’. These birds have been raised in much kinder conditions, which is not only better for their health but significantly better for yours. The torturing of little birds for profit won’t end until enough people stop giving their money to growers and retailers who support torturer.
As a donors to WBR you’re sent the Capture Report each month, for 12 months, and also have access to twice weekly Facebook posts. I think it’s very important for you to see how your money is being used to reduce suffering in tangible ways. Your help means that rapid assistance is always available for sick or seriously injured pelicans, swans, or any bird that is fish hooked or entangled in fishing line or some other material.
My special thanks go to all donors and to our patron Jim Downs, and Liz and Paul on the donations committee.
Bird Slave and El Presidente for Life.
WBR Gold Coast