Three chilled fantails come in from the storm

LAURA WESTBROOK
Last updated 12:45 17/08/2011
EMILY GILBERT

BRRRR: Fantails try to keep out of the cold at the Sail residence, Hunter, South Canterbury.

Fantails at the Sail residence
DOUG SAIL Zoom
Fantails come in from the cold at the Sail residence, Hunter, South Canterbury.

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Desperately cold wild fantails have made a nest of a South Canterbury home as the polar storm sweeping the country takes a huge toll on our birdlife.

Experts expect millions of birds to die as a result of the polar blast covering the country.

For Doug Sail in Hunter, 40 kilometres south of Timaru, the warmth of his dryer drew in three frozen fantails and he unwittingly saved their lives.

"I noticed them flying around the back door trying to get in. Occasionally they tried to fly in through the window and hit the glass.

"I needed to let the room air out and when I left the door open, all of a sudden there they were - three of them."

He said the chilly birds made themselves quite at home and remained for about five hours.

"You couldn't shoo them out, they wouldn't go out through the open door."

They were so determined to stay that when he shut the door to get them out, the birds simply found another way in.

"They flew in through the open toilet window. Then, thinking they were just cold, we decided to leave them"

As the creatures huddled together for warmth, Doug and his wife Emily Gilbert took photos and videos.

"It's something I've never seen before. I was surprised at how tame they were.

"When my wife was taking a video clip of them, one of them landed on her camera while she was filming."

Little did they know that they had, in fact, saved the birds' lives.

Te Papa's curator of terrestrial vertebrates Dr Colin Miskelly said their tameness was borne of sheer desperation.

"They are a confiding species anyway, but if it wasn't for that extra warmth they'd probably be dead by now. They lost one of their usual cautions because they were desperate to stay alive."

Miskelly said fantails feed on flying insects and in these seriously cold conditions, there aren't any insects flying around so many of the birds die.

"The reality is that severe weather conditions cause huge declines in fantail populations. It sometimes takes them several years to recover, although they do recover because they can have large broods and breed multiple times a year.

"It's just one of those tough stories of when the hard winter hits small birds suffer."

It's not just small birds, but sea birds are getting blown into cities from the strong southerlies. Miskelly said birds as far as the sub-Antarctic battle the winds out at sea, and when they get to land they've simply run out of energy.

"I expect this will be killing millions of birds the length of the county.

"We can huddle in front of our heaters with warm clothes on, but other species don't have the same luxury that we do."

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