Rescues were steady during May with WBR attending 31 sick or injured birds. It was a mixed bunch although the pelis experienced more than their fair share of drama.
To Act, or Not to Act
A question often faced by wildlife rescuers is whether an injured creature should be caught and taken to hospital, or whether it’s better left where it is and allowed to ‘get on’. Sadly many rescuers don’t even consider this and instead cart everything (they can catch) off to hospital. But is that the best thing?
The answer may seem obvious. ‘Of course an injured bird should go to hospital! Why wouldn’t you do that’?.
Fact is many injured birds don’t come out of hospital, so in some cases the better question might be ‘do you want the bird to live or die’. That’s because often there will be no in-between.
The pic at right was taken several years ago. I’d just caught him and we were on our way to hospital. I suspect the 450mm clean slice across the bird’s pouch happened when a fisher lashed out with a knife as it tried to snatch his fish from a cleaning table. Still, no excuse.
Consider this. Birds are tough. Real tough. That’s the first thing to keep in mind. I see them survive and manage with injuries that would flatten any human. Secondly, many injured birds, unlike this pelican, are simply irreparable. That’s the problem.
Broken wings for example. Wing bones are light, thin and fragile and very difficult to repair, therefore a broken wing is nearly always a death sentence. Broken legs too. Only the simplest clean break, well away from a joint, has any hope of repair. Even then a bird may have to endure weeks of intolerable confinement with no guarantee of success.
Would a wild creature want that?
Finally, there’s the cost. It just isn’t practical to spend $1000 or more attempting to repair a magpie’s broken leg. If magpies were a rare and endangered species and the break was potentially repairable then time and money would be spent, but ‘black and whites’ (maggies, crows, currys, pee wees) are abundant species.
If this seems harsh consider too that Currumbin Wildlife Hospital survives on the goodness of patrons; on gate takings from the Sanctuary; and I suspect considerable government assistance. Finances are always tight and they never have enough. In spite of this the hospital does extraordinary work. We are so lucky to have such a well-equipped facility with several skilled wildlife vets and good support staff, including many dedicated volunteers.
I’ve been at the hospital on days when they’ve admitted 60 creatures; mostly birds, but everything you can imagine including snakes torn up by whipper snippers, turtles with cracked shells run over by cars, beautiful koalas mauled by dogs ….. then I’ll front up carrying a pelican, like the one above, with a gaping pouch in urgent need of 200 intricately placed stitches from a skilled vet and nurses who’ll put in hours of work to save its life.
At left, head vet Mic Pyne painstakingly applies two rows of stitches, one internally and another externally, to repair the pelican’s pouch. The bird, Scarface Jake, was released 3 weeks later. Looking at the pic I’m going weak at the knees thinking of the ‘peli breath’ Mic is having to endure.
It all means that compromises and hard decisions have to be made. This is one reason why I leave some injured birds in the wild.
Ducks with broken wings for example. I know that mostly a broken wing will prove irreparable and the bird will be euthenased, so as long as the break isn’t compound or the wing ‘draggy’ (hanging on the ground being trodden on) and if I can see the bird has access to water for sanctuary and has food, I’m happy for it to stay. In time the wing might heal, until then the bird has what it needs. Even if it never flies again it can still have a good life.
Another example would be ibis with a broken leg. Ibis are bullet proof (they smell good too). I’ve seen a dangly leg begin to knit within a week and seen that bird hobbling effectively in two weeks. Of course if it was suffering from a compound fracture of both legs (car strike) which I’ve seen several times, that would be an entirely different matter. In agony and with no hope of repair or healing the kindest action is to bump the poor thing off immediately. However, these are the exceptions rather than the rule.
In my view some birds suffering with mild to moderate injuries are simply better left alone because if they go to hospital they won’t be coming out again. Please consider this if you are a rescuer. Don’t just grab every creature and rush it to a vet. A slight disability is not a great impediment if the bird can still feed and get to safety. This avoids the possibility of euthanasia and will also save the hospital time and money, freeing up precious resources which instead can be directed towards those birds which really can be helped.
To Act or Not to Act (Part 2)
This brings me to a case in May involving a peli at Cabbage Tree (30k’s north of Central Surfers) which had lost an entire foot. Not good. How did that happen? I don’t know but my best guess is shark bite.
The bird was discovered by spotter Sandy sitting atop a lamp pole adjacent to the Cabbage Tree boat ramp, its leg, sans the foot, dangling over the edge. Sandy kept an eye on the creature for the 40 minutes it took me to get there.
I’d picked up fish along the way and now set about trying to lure the pelican in to catch it. Yet all the while I had an uncomfortable feeling and was asking myself, ‘am I doing the right thing by this bird, catching it and taking it to hospital?’
My gut instinct was to leave it and let it get on. Would it survive with one foot and that raggedy end exposed? Again, I don’t know, but it might. Others certainly have.
If admitted to hospital it’s very unlikely that peli would come back. There are several good reasons. Firstly, the bird is no longer ‘whole’ and therefore not able to function efficiently. The law says that wildlife which are ‘not whole’ should not be released. Secondly, irreversible infection might already have set in. Examination would reveal this and euthanasia would save the bird from considerable suffering. Finally, with all weight now borne by one foot the probability of developing ‘bumble foot’ (painful pressure sores on the underside of the remaining foot) would be high.
In the end my ‘gut instinct’ was aided by my inability to catch the pelican. Along with its 4 mates I suspect they’d all recently enjoyed a big meal of fish because none would come within 20m of me. That sealed it and I took this as a sign that the bird should remain in the wild. Sandy will continue to observe, if possible, and closely monitor its condition.
What are that pelican’s chances? I don’t know that either (I don’t know much, do I?) but do I have a swan in Robina with only one foot and it does OK. This peli looked healthy and well fed. It could fly and it could hop, aided by some flapping and we knew it could perch without having to rest directly upon the injury. So, I’d say 50/50. One thing I do know is that if we were to ask the bird … ‘would you like to stay out here in the wild with your mates and take your chances, or would you prefer to go to hospital where you’ll almost certainly be given the ‘green dream’, what would you choose’? I have no doubt about its answer.
Another peli which didn’t fare so well was this little girl at right found on the banks of Lake Orr in Varsity. She’d likely contracted botulism, the result of a virulent toxic bacteria which resides in the soil on the bottom of most waterways. It only becomes a problem when ingested by a bird (or animal). Hot weather and rain tends to activate it. Rotting carcasses in the water can exacerbate the problem.
When ingested the spores of clostridium botulinum cause rapid paralysis. In fact it’s the main ingredient in Botox. When injected into muscles they become paralysed, relaxing and smoothing the surrounding skin.
The toxin first takes effect in the legs muscles, then the wings, progressing quickly to the neck. If the bird is swimming when the neck muscles fail its head will drop into the water and the bird drowns. Fortunately most birds seek the shoreline for support as soon as they fall ill. Unless caught and treated within the first 24 hours of the onset of paralysis few survive. On average the hospital manages to save about 30% of affected swans and pelis. Luckily for ducks that percentage is much higher with average survival around 90%.
Treatment is first and foremost lubrication for the bird’s very painful dry eyes. Then heat. Warmth is most important. Unfortunately the folk who found this bird and installed an umbrella over her before I arrived didn’t help her. Heat from the sun was what she needed, but of course they couldn’t know that and were trying to do all they could. Next in hospital is IV antibiotics. Sometimes the vets will give charcoal, something which I’m a great believer in, but this can cause aspiration. If a very sick bird throws up then inhales the fluid into its lungs it dies. For that reason some vets won’t administer charcoal. The final ingredient is luck. Some birds pull through, some don’t. Sadly this one didn’t make it, but we did all we could for her.
Speaking of Ibis
The picture lower left shows nurse Nicole of Gold Coast Vet Surgery snacking on cat food while she awaits my arrival. Well, it was morning tea time and pilchards in aspic can be very hard to resist at any time of the day!
Of course Nichole wasn’t eating, but rather using the cat food to entice an entangled ibis which she’d just called me about (see arrow).
I’m highlighting this rescue because it’s such a fine example of what to do when seeking help for an injured ‘flight capable’ bird.
Nicole first spotted this creature down the road in Cascade Gardens, one month earlier. I was on a short break and so didn’t hear about it until two days later. I hate that. Every time I take a break birds suffer.
Despite making several trips to search the Gardens over the next week I failed to locate it. Now the creature was back. Nicole called immediately causing the well-oiled machinery that keeps ‘our favourite birds’ safe, to swing into action. Dr. Kevin gave Nicole permission to leave her post at reception, grab a can of tasty cat food and head down to the park next to the surgery where the poor thing could be seen tripping on a double entanglement of fishing line which was hobbling both feet.
The key actions were ……… keep the bird in sight and call immediately. I will respond immediately. This time I was twenty minutes away. Nicole’s job was to watch the bird and keep it around by feeding it. But, and it’s a BIG but, I can only catch a bird that is still hungry, so the feeder has to be very careful to give the creature just enough to keep it there but not enough to fill it up.
I suspect Nicole’s rationing looked something like this … one spoonful of pilchards for her, one for the bird. OK, not really but I was delighted to find our little friend still in attendance when I arrived. Nicole had done a great job. So far so good.
What’s that old saying …. the best laid plans of mice and men. Who ever thought that one up must have hunted ibis.
I set a snare then threw food to bring the bird in. It was keen and things looked good. Then for a few seconds it wandered into an area of thicket; the line snagged on a twig; the bird freaked out, took to the air and was last seen heading for Baluchistan.
Shit! So close but SOOooo far. Nothing could be done. I swung back through Cascade Gardens but no sign.
Then, two hours later Nichole called again to say that he’d returned.
Same routine. She kept watch and kept up the feeding. I arrived ten minutes later; re- set a snare and within minutes his little feathered arse was ours. Oh, I do love it when a plan comes together.
This bird was very lucky. A bad entanglement of fishing line can take off toe(s) in as little as a week. Usually it takes longer, but to catch a bird which has endured a solid entanglement for more than a month, especially the dreaded ‘above ankle’ entanglement (top yellow circle), and find that it hasn’t lost digits is very gratifying. We cut the line from the bird’s feet and released it immediately.
Gold Coast Vet Surgery is located at 2800 Gold Coast Hwy, Broadbeach/Surfers. 55385909. Dr. Kevin and his staff have helped me countless times by treating critically sick and injured birds. Couldn’t recommend them more highly.
Doing Better, but Still a Long Way to Go
I’m pleased to acknowledge that lately fishers have been reporting more hooked birds. This is good; real good, but the number is still only about 5% of the birds they’re hooking; 5% being a lot better than the shameful 2% average which our birds have endured for the past decade+.
I wonder if this new awareness is occurring by osmosis? Recent efforts made by myself and many of you who’ve informed QLD Fisheries about the high level of uncaring and irresponsible behaviour demonstrated by far too many fishers might have infused the cosmos and now be slowly sinking into their grey matter. Whatever the reason I’ll take it, but will only be satisfied when the rate of reporting hits 50%.
This next story concerns a swan that is well known to my dear friend Margaret who had to leave her beloved ‘swannies’ on the lake in Elanora when she moved into care late last year. She’ll be both delighted and horrified to learn that the dominant male on the lake had to be caught and de-hooked. Margaret reads these reports and will be crying already over this news. She’s such a sook but loves ‘her’ birds dearly and for years cared for them so well, alerting me to countless swans which we caught and saved.
This swan, accompanied by its partner and 4 kids, had swum through a line cast out into the lake by a fisher. The fisher did the righty and reported the hooking, but not until 2 days later. OK, better than nothing, but if I’d been informed immediately I might have had that bird in custody within the hour. As it happened a guy visiting the lake with his kids saw line trailing and the red flash of a long-shank hook buried in the birds raised leg. He reported this long before the fisher did.
The swan took some days to find. The adult pair usually stay on the lake with their ‘almost mature’ kids but an extensive search revealed nothing. They must have flown out. It was another three days before the adults returned.
I’d alerted lake resident (and defacto swan carer in Margaret’s absence) Eddie to the fact that the male had been hooked. When Eddie eventually spotted it I was close by meaning I was able to get there within minutes, while the birds were in the water in front of his house
Some swans are easy to catch, but catching them on the lake in Elanora is not always easy. The birds know me and don’t like me much, which is most unreasonable because I might just be their best friend. Sadly they don’t see it that way, so as soon as I turn up there’s a lot of muffled trumpeting, veiled looks and muttering among themselves about that dodgy human in the hat. This left me with only one option. I’d have to separate him from the group and blow a net across him.
Five minutes later I’d lined the bird up for the shot. The net flew true but he wasn’t having a bar of it. I tell you, a marlin would have had nothing on this big bloke. He was off and it was all I could do to scramble for the 120lb breaking strain tether line attached to the net and hang on. It took a full ten minutes to haul him in, all the while his distressed family watched and called from a distance (not my favourite part of the job).
Once secured he settled down and was well behaved.
Because it was a recent injury and the hook wasn’t deep and had missed any joints I elected to betadine it, nip off the barb and back the shank out of his thigh. A little more betadine and he was off, back to his waiting partner and the 4 grommets.
But I did worry about this and wondered whether I’d taken a risk releasing him without a shot of antibiotic. I was comforted by the knowledge that Eddie typically sees this family a few times each day. I advised him to monitor and use food to attract the male out of the water as often as possible. Any sign of a worsening limp and Eddie would call immediately.
Three weeks on and there’s no sign of trouble. The big fella is fine. Breathe deeply Margaret. I’m still taking care of your ‘swannies’ and all are in good shape.
I’d hardly describe myself as a Facebook addict or, what’s that new term … ‘social media influencer’? Ha, gotta love that. But I am so grateful to receive all the positive support which is generated by the Wild Bird Rescues weekly FB posts.
I’d never even seen Facebook prior to 4 years ago when I decided to investigate. So glad I did. By posting a few quick snaps or vids, taken on my phone, some really compelling rescues, which would otherwise be known to only a few can now be viewed by thousands of people, in some cases tens of thousands. The benefits in raising awareness about predicaments facing our wildlife are incalculable. Of course everyone else probably knows this, but I’m a late starter. I’m also very humbled by the kind and generous comments each post receive. It means a lot.
The WBR Facebook page continues to gather support. The other day I read that Kylie Jenner has 160 million followers. As of today Wild Bird Rescues has 2785, so we’re not far behind.
In a world gone mad where plastic pollution is, in my view, the number one problem we face globally and where the price of a large takeaway coffee from Zarrafas just hit $6.70, it’s good to know that some things still offer the promise of restitution and sanctuary. You know what I’m talking about ….
This month’s tasty morsel was provided by my mate Phil who lives on a yacht several pens over from mine. Out of the blue he’d called to ask if I’d like to drop in for coffee and a slice of chocolate cake. What a stupid question. I would have braved bull sharks by swimming to the next marina for that!
Upon arrival I was mesmerised by Phil’s culinary skills. For me, a man who a man who can barely cook toast, the sight of such a beautiful chocolate cake smothered in thick chocolate icing, was something to behold.
Surely this sacred recipe must have been handed down by a beloved mother or grandma. I was curious and so quizzed Phil. ‘Nar’, he replied, ‘Aldi’. ‘Aldi what’, I asked. ‘Aldi packet cake mix’. Oh, I see. Have to admit that did tarnish the gloss on my fantasy somewhat, but it was still a bloody good piece of cake.
Kelly is going to murder me for posting the irreverent picture at left. She and her colleague Mars have been working hard installing new bins including this one at Jacobs Well. The last thing the girls need is to have some galah drop fish frames into them.
It does happen. I remember passing a Tackle Bin at Oxenford Weir. Drawn by the dreadful smell I looked inside and saw that someone had deposited a plastic bait bag, half full of prawns. They’d been baking in the sun for a week. Oh my god!
Ten new Tackle Bins up and running brings the total in the field to 22.
Those few words in the sentence above can’t begin to convey the time and commitment which has gone into supplying all of those bins, not to mention the ongoing efforts by volunteers who empty them and log a detailed record of contents which is then entered into a national data base.
The journey to 22 Tackle Bins has been long. The first stage was to find bins suitable for the task. Until a few years back the favoured model was an upright length of PVC water pipe with a 90 degree bend on top. This worked and it was very cheap and simple to construct but the bins weren’t visible and the round shape meant that all-important signage could not easily be read. In short, this model was a failure.
I’d found a guy in Melbourne who’d designed and was producing the Tackle Bins above. Kelly set about raising funds to purchase a dozen. She eventually sourced monies from three different agencies. Then wording and artwork had to be thought up and designed. Much time was spent surveying locations for the bins. Permission had to be sought from Council to install them. Council was also asked to supply and fit some of the poles (working with Council was a saga in itself!). The raw bins needed to have doors fitted so they could be emptied, then they had to be installed on the chosen poles or other suitable structures. Kelly began searching for people who would empty them. Reliability was the key requirement. It took some time but now she has a good team. Thus far the bins have collected many kilometres of fishing line plus countless hooks and other fishing debris which would otherwise have gone on polluting the environment and trapping and entangling birds.
Kelly Lyndsay has done all of this for free. In addition to her full time conservation work, mainly focussed on reducing plastic waste, she continues to organise, run and drive the Tackle Bin Project. Kelly shies away from the limelight or public recognition preferring to just get on with the job. She won’t wave her own flag and so I’m doing some well-deserved waving for her.
I just received a reply from Dr. Beth Woods, Director-General of Fisheries to a follow-up letter that I sent her late last month. In my letter I’d highlighted the need to reduce the number of fishing lines which a fisher can use in fresh water, down from 6 lines to 2 lines. I’d also asked her to change the law so that fishers had to remain with their 2 lines (as fishers in salt water are already required to do). These changes would significantly reduce the unacceptably high number of hookings of waterbirds.
No fisher can control six fishing lines. They can barely control two fishing lines, and they certainly can’t control any lines from 50m away. Of course, my letter was only re-iterating points which many of you have already made to her, but I also took the opportunity to ask how Fisheries can justify these ridiculous line allowances in the light of compelling evidence that current laws are not working and lead to carnage, especially amongst our swans.
The phot at right was taken some years ago. I suspect this swan had swum into an unattended fishing line. She had a hook in one foot, 2 hooks in the other foot, another hook in her thigh and 1 in her backside, all joined together by line. She was hobbled and bleeding and could barely stand. Adding to her woes she’d strayed into the territory of a dominant pair which, when I arrived, were hell bent on beating her to death. I drove the pair away and rushed her to hospital. She survived, but only just.
Here is Dr. Beth Wood’s reply ….
‘The current recreational fishing rules were introduced to allow recreational fishers the best chance of catching a freshwater fish, which may be more difficult than fishing in tidal waters …….. Similarly, the existing fresh water attendance rule is strict and requires to be no more than 50m away from any of their fishing lines at any time, which is in line with neighbouring jurisdictions’.
She went on to say that …
‘The government is not reviewing freshwater fishing rules at this point in time but will consider your feedback with any future review’.
Dr. Woods’ response doesn’t provide any answers or even the glimmer of a solution to the unacceptable number of birds which are critically injured by fishers every year, largely the result of an excessive allowance of fishing gear used in fresh water and because fishers can walk away and leave their (6) lines unattended. What I find most concerning is her choice to avoid any acknowledgement of the damage being done to wildlife despite compelling evidence which has been presented.
Of course this comes as no big surprise. Just typical avoidance and stone walling by a senior bureaucrat.
I see it as positive. The Dept. has no answers and so they write the same old rubbish over and over again. But they can’t keep doing that forever which is why we must maintain the pressure.
Again, I ask you to please email the DG of F and tell her that permitting recreational fishers to use 6 fishing lines and allowing them to leave those lines unattended and walk 50 meters away, is completely unacceptable. Remind her that community attitudes have changed and people are no longer willing to sit by and watch as innocent wildlife are maimed or killed by ‘preventable’ fishing injuries. Tell her about all the hookings you’ve seen, either in person, or in pictures and in these reports and other places (take and use any pics you want from my reports or FB page and add them to your submission). Tell her of your disgust at seeing fishing line laying everywhere in popular fishing spots accompanied by empty cigarette packets, beer cans and other rubbish left on shorelines and jetties by grubs. Most importantly, say that you want a reduction in the allowance of fishing lines in fresh water from 6 down to 2 and that fishers must remain in attendance (and therefore in control) of their 2 lines at all times.
Send your email to the Director-General, Dept. of Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Dr. Beth Woods email@example.com.
CC it to The Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries QLD, Mark Furner firstname.lastname@example.org and to recreational fisheries officer Tony Ham email@example.com
Pls do this now. It will take you 5 minutes. If you do nothing, nothing will change.
I hope you are enjoying these reports, hectic though they sometimes are. I’m very grateful for your support. As always, special thanks go to Lizzy and Paul on the Donations Committee and to our patron Jim Downs.
Until next month
‘Lover of Ibis and Nemesis of QLD Fisheries’
Pres. WBR Gold Coast