Big bird blows in

HANDLE WITH CARE: Meg Selby of Natureland is caring for the mollymawk after it was found injured in Quail Valley, near Wakefield.
HANDLE WITH CARE: Meg Selby of Natureland is caring for the mollymawk after it was found injured in Quail Valley, near Wakefield.

A majestic ocean bird rarely seen on land has ended up in Nelson.

Motocross coach Bryan Heaphy was driving three youngsters back home to Nelson from training last week when he saw what he first thought was a large seagull on the road at Quail Valley Rd near the junction with Eighty-eight Valley Rd at Wakefield.

It was instead a lost and forlorn mollymawk, a type of albatross, presumably blown inland by recent severe weather.

Andy Rolfe and Amy Jukes from the Nelson SPCA initially tended to the large bird after it was found last Tuesday. It was then taken to the Stoke Veterinary Clinic for an initial examination before being placed in the care of Natureland that afternoon.

Mr Heaphy said that from a distance, the bird did not look very big, but as he drove past he said to the boys in his van, "That looked like an albatross".

He reversed, stopped and jumped out, and realised that the bird was ill.

"I realised then, yeah, that's an albatross.

"I was buzzing. I didn't want to try and pick it up, but I was able to get close enough to photograph it and send the pictures to the SPCA."

Mr Rolfe said it was a majestic-looking bird but obviously in a weakened state.

The bird, a white-capped shy mollymawk, is now recovering at Natureland under the care of staff and in consultation with specialist veterinarian Mana Stratton. It remains vulnerable and is not on view to the public.

When the mollymawk arrived at the Tahunanui zoo, it weighed only 2.28 kilograms. A weight of around 4kg would be normal.

"It's thanks to people like Mr Heaphy for contacting the SPCA that we are able to help birds and other animals in distress," Mr Rolfe said. It was also a great example of the partnership between animal welfare organisations.

Natureland co-operator and zoologist Meg Selby said a pelagic bird such as the albatross was almost never seen on land.

It would not have survived had it not been found and brought into the care of the staff at the SPCA and Natureland, she said.

Ocean birds like mollymawks spend so much time at sea that they are not well equipped for being on land.

Ms Selby said the bird most likely became disoriented after a recent "crazy, windy day".

"These birds are common in this part of coastal New Zealand but you just don't see them, as they don't come on land."

The bird is receiving intensive care, including being fed twice a day with fish supplied by Sealord and New Zealand King Salmon.

It is also being treated for a respiratory infection and is receiving vitamins, and salt water is being regularly applied so its salt gland remains active.

Ms Selby said it was also critical that the bird did not lose the waterproofing on its feathers, to ensure it survived once it was returned to the ocean.

The bird would stay at Natureland until it had gained enough weight to be able to be released with a good chance of survival, she said.

"The rescue, rehabilitation and release of native species is a critical role of both Natureland and the SPCA. In the coming years, Natureland has plans to increase both the size and quality of its facilities to care for birds like this one."


The white-capped mollymawk is a familiar albatross in coastal waters from Hawke Bay south, scavenging around commercial and recreational fishing vessels.

During their breeding season (November-June) they live throughout coastal New Zealand, especially from Cook Strait south.

It is the largest of the mollymawks, and its main breeding grounds are in the Auckland Islands, with a second subspecies breeding on islands off Tasmania and ranging into the Tasman Sea and to New Zealand.

The Nelson Mail