March was fairly quiet at WBR with only 31 rescues. I took a week off towards the end which partly accounts for the reduced numbers.
During late March the BIG event on Gold Coaster’s minds was the Commonwealth Games. Preparations meant that road closures and diversions had to be avoided if one was to have any hope of arriving at a rescue in time. Notwithstanding, in most areas the traffic moved along quite well.
Anyone Know a Good Travel Agent?
Of course any rescuer who thinks they’re actually going to get a ‘week off’ is dreaming. I suspect that true peace can only be achieved while holidaying in some far flung destination like Siberia.
It was late in the afternoon and blowing a gale as I walked through the Oasis Shopping Centre in Broadbeach. Just meters from my chosen café, there in the central pool, was a mother Pacific-black duck and 2 ducklings. If I had a buck for every duck and duckling I’ve pulled out of that pool over the years I could easily afford a nice trip away. With a deep sigh and resigned to my fate, I returned to the car; moved it to a dodgy parking space which was closer, then grabbed my gear.
Ducklings are easy to catch because they can’t fly; although they do run like the wind and are programmed to all head in different directions when panicked. Therefore it was important to keep them in the pool where movement was limited. Mother ducks are an entirely different ballgame. They’re fully ‘flight capable’ and move like greased lightning.
I rarely miss catching a mother duck. Once she’s caught the squeakers can be rounded up and the whole family relocated somewhere safe. That’s how it should be.
(Pic at left features a Pacific-black duck mum plus 10 that I’d just relocated).
This mother was flighty. Battling very strong wind and difficult conditions I missed her. She bailed. Girls who were watching and keen to help quickly scooped up the 2 ducklings. Then I called Lee Sievers, carer and WBR supporter. Lee lives close by and very kindly offered to take the kids into care. Lucky ducklings indeed.
Two hours on, approaching 7pm, I got a text from the same girls saying they’d just fished another duckling out of the pool. Oh no, I’d missed one! I called Lee who told the girls to bring the bird around and soon it was re-united with its siblings. I put that bird in the ‘even luckier duckling’ class. But it wasn’t over yet. Two hours later another 2 were found and caught.
Where were all these ducklings coming from?
The problem with ducks is they imprint on their area of birth; meaning that when they mature some will return and nest in the same place. Never mind how crappy and impossible that place might be. This cycle can go on for years; even decades.
Earlier in the afternoon our mum must have left her secret nesting spot with the first 2 of her brood and headed for the nearest water: in this case the Oasis Shopping Centre pool. For whatever reason the others hadn’t followed. It’s possible they hadn’t even hatched; instead popping out of eggs soon after she’d left. Fortunately all were picked up and eventually made their way into care.
A Tale of Two Families
Luck doesn’t run in all families. Those who follow WBR on Facebook may recall a recent post that featured a very young cygnet rescued from the shore of a lake by caller Ronnie. The bird was very ill and had been abandoned by its family. Their leaving may seem harsh but parents and siblings can’t wait around forever if one gets sick. They have to get on with their lives.
Happily the little bird made a remarkable recovery in hospital. Three days later I took her home to be re-unite with mum, dad and the other 3 kids. But the good times didn’t last. Ronnie phoned a few days later, distressed and angry, saying that purple swamp hens had killed all 4 cygnets. Understandably he was harbouring murderous feelings towards the purple swamp hens.
This outcome was very sad, but it is what it is. Fortunately birds don’t dwell on these things. The pair will nest again soon.
It’s been a much happier experience for a second family with 2 cygnets of a similar age to those just mentioned. Another of my Facebook posts featured Lelu, the female of the pair. One day it was observed that Lelu couldn’t stand. She had no obvious injuries so I rushed her to Currumbin Wildlife Hospital where she spent a week being treated for suspected botulism. Seven days on Lelu appeared to have recovered, so I took her home and re-united her with Dad and the 2 kids.
At first she showed no interest in them and swam out into the canal, washing and preening. Dad and the cygnets tagging along behind. But barely an hour later she was slumped on the beach again. Back to hospital. What the ???
With no clear diagnosis the same treatments were applied. This time it took 10 days after which she was pronounced ‘good to go’. I returned her home where again she ignored her family and swam away, washing and preening. By now her kids had well and truly bonded with Dad. They’d wised up too and instead of following her all three waited on the shoreline and watched.
(‘Hey Mum, what about us?’)
It took a few days but Lelu came around. Now they’re a happy family again.
Luck aside, this family’s success could be attributed to several factors. Quick action by concerned locals, Heather and Manon, ensured that Lelu was attended to quickly by me each time she fell ill. Then there was the good work done by staff at the hospital. Finally, let’s not forget dad Max who looked after his kids brilliantly while Lelu was away. Tucked into their tiny canal the three were well supported by locals who provided quality food (lettuce and fresh corn), plus they had plenty of grassy lawns to graze upon. Low eel numbers and an absence of aggressive birds or competing swans also made a big difference.
So far things are working out well.
Some Stories are Better Left Untold
He was a young guy, probably late teens, and very concerned about a crow hanging by fishing line from a tree in central Surfers. I can’t remember his name: might have been Igor. With a heavy accent he was hard to understand, but the message was clear … the bird was in real trouble.
The crow was tethered to the tree and hanging in the water only 2 meters from the shore. It wasn’t going anywhere but needed to be caught. I told Igor that crows are very smart and they’re gentle and rarely bite. He agreed to wade in and grab the bird. I’d be there in a jiffy.
Minutes later I pulled up and there was Igor, cradling the crow in his arms. You beaudy!
‘Good work Igor’, I said.
‘No, no Rowley, I just a leetle beetch’.
‘What are you talking about Igor? That’s a terrible thing to say about yourself. You rescued the bird didn’t you?
‘No, no Rowley, you don unerstan. You see I too scare go in water. Pregnant lady, she have go in water; catch bird … she give to me’.
‘Well yeah, I see what you mean Igor. Might want to keep that story to yourself’.
Below is Inky. He’s a big fella but was so bruised and battered when I rescued him that he couldn’t even stand.
Battles between competing swans are daily occurrences on Gold Coast waterways. Few end in death. In fact in all my years of rescuing I can only recall a couple of fatalities due to fighting. It’s different for cygnets. A competing adult pair will readily drown any small cygnet they isolate. Seems cruel, but it’s all about ensuring that only the strongest survive to perpetuate the species. (Rest assured, I’ll be having a word to God about this when I get up there)
I don’t know why Inky and his tormentor were fighting. Probably territorial. He’d lain there in torrential rain for hours, battered and unable to move, being set upon time and time again by a bird fully intent on killing him. It was close.
When the call came in I was only 15 minutes away. I quickly bundled Inky up. The open wounds on his head were not the problem. It was damage unseen which threatened his life. The hospital was closed so I took Inky home and made him comfortable, intending to admit him first thing next morning.
Thirty minutes under the warm blast of my fan heater took care of his waterlogged feathers. Snug and warm at last he’d perked up a little and managed a few bites of lettuce and fresh corn before settling down for the night.
He was in hospital at 8am next morning. Despite lots of ‘good drugs’ it was a full two days before Inky could even lift his head.
Happy to say that after 10 days in hospital he’d made a good recovery. I had the ambo run him home. It’ll be up to him to resolve any residual turf issues that may still exist.
A Change is as Good as a Holiday
For years my beloved Aldi Cocktail Franks, preserved in ‘God knows what’, have been the ‘tucker of choice’ for attracting and then catching insectivores and other meat eating birds. I’d be the first to sing their praises and say they’ve served me well. However, recently, while wiping bits of ‘snag’ of my fingers and recoiling from the aroma, I had an epiphany. I thought, ‘why couldn’t I use cupcakes instead?’ Far more attractive to me … if not the birds. No more of that gooee, preservative laden fluid dripping onto my lap. It’d be one of those … one cup cake for me, then one cup cake for the bird, kind of deals. I think I’ll look into this!
Wild Bird Rescues has been the sole rescuer of ‘flight capable’ birds on the Gold Coast for more than a decade. I think most would agree that I provide top quality service. This is due in no small part to generous backing from donors like you.
Having a dedicated provider like WBR to function as a central point, gathering information about ‘flight capable’ birds in need of rescue, is really important. Without it a situation can quickly develop where two, or even three rescuers, all receiving information from different sources, end up going after the same distressed bird; each unaware of what the others are doing. However, the most important advantage is that Wild Bird Rescues makes sure that critically injured birds are only attended to by highly experienced rescuers carrying the right equipment. In most cases this is a bird’s only hope.
Unfortunately, a few weeks ago, a local volunteer wildlife group, along with another from Brisbane, decided in their wisdom that the Gold Coast needed more ‘flight capable’ bird rescuers. So they ran a training course for a few hours. They didn’t inform me, or seek input on how this might affect our local system, or the injured birds we help.
I felt their actions were very disrespectful and had the potential to disrupt an established system that we’ve had in place for many years. In fact, going about it the way they did, knowing the acrimony it would likely cause, leads me to question their motives.
Every area could use more rescuers. No doubt about that. But in ‘flight capable’ bird rescue skill and experience counts for everything. Like any worthwhile endeavour this can only be achieved through proper training and many, many hours in the field under the guidance of an experienced catcher. The problem with ‘quickie’ courses is that participants get a bare introduction to techniques which take years to master. Without any commitment to follow-up training their new found knowledge can do great harm. Human nature being what it is means that people will rush out and practice on sick birds. Worse is that calls which would normally be directed to a competent rescue service find their way to newbies who are keen to ‘give it a go’ but have little or no hope of success. Injured birds that might otherwise be caught quickly, escape and often die. Either that or an experienced catcher ends up having to spend hours, or even days, trying to track down those birds which are now super wary.
Fortunately, these problems don’t occur too often on the Gold Coast. I’ve worked tirelessly over the years to ensure that systems are in place so that all calls for ‘flight capable’ birds come to Wild Bird Rescues. It’s the only way to safeguard birds in an unregulated system which allows people with little or no training to attempt rescues that are way beyond their capabilities. Professional organisations like RSPCA and Currumbin Wildlife Hospital recognise the risk and fully support WBR by ensuring that calls don’t fall into the hands of well-meaning but inexperienced people.
(At left: a profoundly difficult rescue. He was lucky. Hospital managed to sew him up and he lived)
But can one rescue service handle all calls for ‘flight capable’ birds on the Gold Coast?
The answer is … YES, easily.
In fact if I knocked back the additional rescues I do, which don’t involve ‘flighted’ birds, I’d halve my workload overnight. I do those extra jobs to ease the load on other services; there-being such a shortage of reliable volunteers, right across the board, in all areas of wildlife rescue.
Wouldn’t it be better if more local rescuers were trained to catch ‘flight capable’ birds?
Yes, of course. But where are those people??
In any given area (Goldie, Brisbane, Tweed, Sunshine Coast) there’s only ever one or two fully experienced ‘flight capable’ catchers. Most regional areas have none at all. Maybe the joy of 15 hour days, 7 days a week, unpaid, has something to do with this.
(At right. Another tough rescue. Brahmini kite, lashed to a telecommunications cable by fishing line. The bird lived, once we got him down and the hooks out of him)
More rescuers, trained and capable, would be great, but in all my years I have never been approached by anyone who’s asked me to train them properly. Not a single person. Plenty have expressed interest, but they never commit. On the other hand I’ve approached several people who I thought would make good candidates and offered them training. Some made a start, but only one ever stuck with it. Soon after she accepted a full time position as an RSPCA ambo officer. Recently I’ve taken on a new trainee. She also has ambo experience and is keen. In time, if she sticks with it, she’ll advance to become a capable rescuer.
Wild Bird Rescues has an extended team that can be called upon when I’m engaged elsewhere. I rely on two rescuers in the southern Gold Coast area and two in the northern region. None are experienced in ‘flight capable’ rescues, nor do they attempt them. Rather, they spot for me, or tackle those rescues which fall within their capabilities. I’d love them to extend their training but, for some, work commitments don’t allow this. For others their real passion lies in different areas of wildlife rescue. eg bats, marsupials or reptiles.
Fortunately Mary Grant, the veteran catcher from Tweed, is close by and has been most helpful. She’ll attend complicated rescues if I’m away. Back up is also provided by the Bris RSPCA ambo service. One of their two vans can be found on the Goldie most days.
The exciting news is that RSPCA is working with GC Council to put a full time ambo back on the Gold Coast. The previous service was withdrawn 6 years ago and has been sorely missed. It gets better. The person I trained in ‘flight capable’ capture techniques, until she accepted that position as a Bris RSPCA ambo officer, will be one of those professional staff operating the new Gold Coast service.
As you can see we’re in good shape here on the Goldie. Injured birds continue to be very well looked after. The recent interference meant I had to put out a couple of fires and trim off some deadwood, but otherwise little damage was done.
Thank you to all who donate to Wild Bird Rescues. Your help allows me (and my extended team) to provide fast, effective help for sick and injured birds. Special thanks go to our patron Jim Downs and to Liz and Paul on the Donations Committee.
Until next month …
Lowly Poultry Slave and Pres.
Wild Bird Rescues GOLD COAST