Penguin way off course in Whangarei

ALEXANDRA NEWLOVE
Last updated 09:14 06/03/2014
Burt and Robert Webb
BAD FEATHER DAY: Burt the penguin is looking understandably dishevelled after swimming an estimated 2000 kilometres from his birth place, pictured with Robert Webb.

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The allure of the sunny north has proven too much for one penguin who has ended up in Whangarei after a remarkable journey.

The intrepid Burt is a snares crested penguin, and hails from the Snares Islands, more than 200km south of the South Island.

Whangarei Native Bird Recovery Centre's Robert Webb thinks the "Love it Here" promotion of Whangarei as a holiday destination may have motivated Burt's epic swim.

Mr Webb says the penguins have been known to turn up as far afield as Australia and are often carried by ocean currents.

Burt was actually rescued from Russell, by a fisherman who noticed the penguin being attacked by a group of gulls on the beach.

He arrived at the centre in good health last Sunday and has been dining on squid, bought from the aptly named Penguin Wholesalers.

Mr Webb named him after Kiwi motorcyclist Burt Munro, as both can be described as "the fastest things on the beach".

Snares cresteds can reach speeds of up to 25kmh under water but Burt is unable to swim at the moment because he is in a moulting phase.

During this time his feathers are not waterproof and he is poorly insulated.

He will remain in this stage for several weeks and will then be flown to Dunedin, where it is hoped he will be able to find his way back to the Snares Islands, the only place penguins of his kind breed.

Mr Webb says it will be good for Burt to be back home in the cool southern waters to which he is accustomed.

Burt will be ready for release when he has waterproofed his new feathers with oil from the glands at the base of his spine.

Mr Webb says the process is vital to the survival of all penguins and is the reason why people should refrain from handling them in most circumstances.

"The worst thing you can do is pick up a penguin and put it back in the water.

"You'll stroke it and remove the oil, it will get scared from being handled and will swim out to sea and drown."

The Native Bird Recovery Centre cares for around 1300 sick and injured birds each year.

Visit nbr.org.nz to learn more and to make a donation.

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- Whangarei Leader

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