The foul weather in the last couple of weeks has been bad for people, but much worse for seabirds off the west coast.
N8N was out on Raglan’s ocean beach yesterday, where literally thousands of dead prions were strewn all along the high tide line – a very sad sight.
The NZ Herald has really good video footage of the birds coming in, and efforts to rescue them.
Prions are small, blue-grey relatives of albatrosses and shearwaters. Most of the casualties were broad-billed prions, which have fine sieves along each side of their bill and feed on plankton, like baleen whales in miniature. There are six species, and according to the vet in Raglan, who is caring for many dozens of survivors that the public have brought in, all species have been caught up in this event.
The only bird we found alive on the beach was a fairy prion, the species that is seen most often around northern New Zealand. The vet reckoned it had a good chance of survival, the only bright spot in a fairly depressing day.
Not all of the birds stopped on the beach though. At least two were picked up in Te Pahu and taken to a vet in Hamilton, and further south some were blown clear over the Tararuas and into the Wairarapa. It’s actually not that uncommon for oceanic birds to turn up deep in the heart of the rural Waikato; a couple of the more unusual have been a wandering albatross at Te Aroha and a Kerguelen petrel – a rare visitor from the southern Indian Ocean – in Hamilton.
DoC says if you do find a seabird inland and it’s in reasonable condition it can be released back at sea on the first fine day, from the shoreline (not a cliff-top) and preferably in a sheltered harbour. It’s a bit technical caring for birds beyond two or three days, and if it’s in a bad way it may well die no matter what you do, but if it’s weak or unwell, keep it in a quiet, warm, draught-free environment. A large box with soft bedding is good. Provide drinking water – freshwater is okay for the first two days, but beyond that seabirds really need salt water – they’re adapted to excrete the excess salt.
Don’t force feed, but you can offer finely chopped small portions of pilchards or fish meat placed in a dish of water. Tinned fish is not suitable although fish canned in spring water may be useful in an emergency. Prions would be among the trickiest birds to feed, as they live on plankton, so if you find one of these it really needs professional care.