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Sticky seeds a bird killer

Last updated 11:18 17/07/2008
FIONA GOODALL/Eastern Courier
DEATH TRAP: The sticky black seed heads of the birdcatcher tree.

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Eastern residents are being asked to help manage a tree which has been linked to the deaths of birds.

Ros Nicholson, who is a member of the South Auckland branch of the Forest and Bird Protection Society, says the parapara or birdcatcher tree snares native birds with its sticky seeds damaging their feathers and wings which eventually leads to their death.

"The tree uses the seeds to attract insects, but the birds are attracted to the trapped insects and so also get caught by the highly sticky substance.

"This causes great stress to the birds and they then fall to the ground where they usually starve or are killed by cats. If you look under most of these trees you’ll find bones."

Mrs Nicholson says fantails, silvereyes, thrush, blackbirds, kingfishers and even morepork fall victim to the tree.

The plant is a native species and can grow up to six metres high. It is found on the east coast and offshore islands of the upper North Island and has green leaves with yellow edges and pale white flowers.

During its flowering and fruiting season between August and December, it releases the sticky substance on the black seed heads, which remains active for up to eight months.

"It evolved to use large sea-birds to disperse its seeds by using the sticky substance to attach seeds to their plumages, but small urban species can’t cope with the highly sticky gum-like substance," says the Pakuranga resident.

"Our wildlife is very important. We are trying to encourage more birdlife into our urban areas and we need to protect it as much as we protect the trees because both are a part of the ecology of the region and are interdependent."

Mrs Nicholson says some local nurseries sell the tree as a decorative plant, although they have sometimes agreed to stop once informed of its harmful effects.

Auckland Regional Council biosecurity manager Jack Craw says the plant is a rare and beautiful native species but can cause the deaths of small birds. The council recommends people concerned about possible bird deaths to annually remove the sticky seeds which appear on the tree after it flowers.

Anyone finding a bird in distress in or near a parapara tree can take the animal to the Bird Rescue Centre in Whitford.

Attempting to clean the bird is not recommended because many common cleaning solutions can cause more harm. The centre has the correct products to remove the sticky gum safely. They are at 129 Ara Kotinga Rd, phone 530-8283.

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- Eastern Courier

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