Feather in his cap

16:00, Dec 23 2011
Craig Shepherd
Craig Shepherd is devoted to helping birds in distress.

A duck hardly says thank you when it's released after experiencing Craig Shepherd's gentle care, but then neither do some of the obstreperous drunks in Courtenay Place that he tends to as a voluntary event medic with Wellington Free Ambulance.

Fortunately, a duck never hits back and there's always a bitter-sweet feeling to healing one and seeing it fly off.

"There's a huge sense of satisfaction when you take a sick and injured bird and you're able to release it into its own environment. It's sweet because you know that, hopefully, it's going to a good life but there's an element of sadness that after all of the care, it's gone, if that makes sense."

Craig Shepherd
REWARDING: "There's a huge sense of satisfaction when you take a sick and injured bird and you're able to release it into its own environment."

In Shepherd's Ohariu Valley world, all ducks deserve a life. He has, for example, been looking after a duck someone brought to him after it was hit by a car.

"It was limp and lifeless. It had been to the vet and was on medication for pain relief and totally paralysed at the back. It's now getting movement back with rehabilitation three times a day. I know it's only a duck, but a duck deserves quality of life. And the skills you learn you can utilise on more valuable species."

By day Shepherd has, for the past 30 years, run a security business. The bird part of his life  a passion, not an obsession, he says  was sparked when he and his partner were building the house on their farmlet 10 years ago and one of the builders found an injured duckling.

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Craig Shepherd
HELPING HAND: Craig Shepherd is also a voluntary event medic with Wellington Free Ambulance.

"I had no knowledge of bird rehabilitation and it went to the SPCA and then a bird rehabilitation centre and a while later a woman phoned and said, 'I'm sorry but your duckling died'."

Shepherd could hardly remember the duckling but he "compartmentalised" the experience and when his partner gave him six assorted ducks as a present, "it grew from there".

He told the SPCA  of which he later became chairman for several months  he was willing to take injured birds. Since then he has looked after hundreds. It's specialist work which SPCA staff can't necessarily do.

Shepherd has learned the intricacies of avian care from practice, from Massey University and from working alongside vets. "It's not something you can do as an aside."

On his farm he has housed and cosseted hundreds of prions from Antarctica  blown into Kapiti  until they could be released.

He also has endangered brown teal as part of a breeding programme

Recently he had a thrush with a severely injured head that needed feeding eight times a day, though waterfowl are generally his speciality. When the Rena spewed oil off Tauranga, Shepherd helped de-oil birds. He hated the destruction  "like wandering albatrosses, massive birds, flying around for years that have dived into to oil, probably looking for fish".

Closer to home he helped when a broken-down Wainuiomata bus sent diesel into a stream and when a Kapiti spray painter accidentally sprayed paint into a pond. Not long ago a duck that had got into a drum of sump oil needed cleaning.

One duck takes about 12 hours to clean. "In Tauranga there was an estimate of 1000 litres of water for every bird."

Shepherd, also known as The Duckman, is not a vegetarian. He eats meat  humanely killed  but he would never, ever, eat duck. "I choose not to, for the same reason most people won't eat cat or dog, that it's abhorrent to eat pets."

Contact the reporter of this story Diana.Dekker@dompost.co.nz

 

The Dominion Post