A number of hutton's shearwaters are crash landing around Kaikoura and the Department of Conservation is asking people to be extra vigilant.
The birds are returning home from their OE in Australia to lay eggs and rear their young in Kaikoura's two breeding colonies.
Hutton's shearwaters can become easily confused, especially when landing at night in stormy conditions. Sometimes if the road is wet the birds' mistake this as glistening sunlight reflecting off the ocean, which equates to a safe place to land. Others get confused by the bright lights of buildings, resulting in a crash landing.
As the birds run over the water prior to take off at sea, they have no ability to take off once they have crashed. When taking off from land, for example from the colonies, they require a mound or steep face to become airborne from.
Hutton's shearwaters that land on the road quite often won't get out of the way of traffic. The birds survival instinct is to seek shelter and if this is not within eye sight they are likely to just sit, becoming easy prey for cats and dogs.
Local DOC rangers Mike Morrissey and Brett Cowan are encouraging the public to help rescue birds that have become separated from the colony. If you do come across a bird in this situation, they ask that you follow these few simple steps:
Remove the bird from any danger.
Check if it has any injuries (broken wings are often obvious). Also check for any leg band that will have a number on it, record the number and advise DOC if you release the bird yourself.
If it is injured or you don't want to try a release yourself, place the bird in a cardboard box or wrap it gently in something and take it to the DOC Field Centre on Ludstone Rd where there is a collection box downstairs under the lights. Place the bird in the box and leave a contact number on the form provided if you want details on its later release. The other option is to release it yourself .
If you are confident the bird has no injuries and wish to release it yourself, take it to the beach and launch it into the air close to the water. Most birds will fly over the breakers for a short distance before landing. After having a short drink they will then fly out to sea.
The birds fly only at night into the colonies. They do this out of instinct to avoid predators such as hawks and falcons. Launching the birds during daylight away from the shore and even from hilltops is often pointless as they will crash land in order to seek cover rather than return to the sea or the colony.
Hutton's shearwaters' only breeding colonies in the world exist here in Kaikoura.
The public is asked to be extra vigilant right through the summer months, between now and March, as these are the months the birds are likely to get into trouble.
- © Fairfax NZ News