Rescuing birds her passion...

Tuesday February 28, 2017 Written by Published in Environment
Sheryl John with Homer, a young Brown Booby. 17022407 Sheryl John with Homer, a young Brown Booby. 17022407

Home a handy refuge for Sheryl’s feathered friends


Popping in to the Whale and Wildlife centre in Atupa will open your eyes to a huge number of creatures inhabiting this island and its waters.

However, the last thing you may expect as you buy a tasty coffee from the café there is to be keenly watched by a feathery lump of a bird called Pink.

Pink is a white tern and he is one of Sheryl John’s little avian buddies that she nurses until they are ready to flap their wings and fly away to pastures new … or blue.

He sits calmly on spread-out papers as people come in and talk and occasionally he takes a beakfull of fish offered by John.

Rescuing birds has become one of John’s passions, although she reckons she has only doing it for about a year.

“We had birds before that time, but not many.

“The reason we are only doing so many now is that Esther Honey has let everyone know they can only do cats and dogs - oh and goats and pigs, they can’t do birds.

“And the birds get stressed there because of the noise and the cats around. So people say take any found birds to the Wildlife Centre.”

Some of the birds taken to John have got lost, or fallen out of trees, or are injured.

“If they are hurt we take them to Esther Honey to check them and so they let us know what’s wrong with them from a vet’s point of view.

“And then we try to protect and feed them and keep them from harm’s way.”

One of the most recent temporary adoptees was Misha, a white tern or kakaia.

“It still has down on it, but it is the most adventurous bird,” John says with real attachment. “And it wants to be a big bird, not a little bird, and it thinks it can fly.”

Misha’s adventurous nature meant it was kept at John’s house for its own safety.

“If it flies out here (at the centre) there are cars and the neighbour’s dogs - it will get into trouble, especially if I am busy.

“So it’s safer at home and I can keep it on the porch. It does fly away, but it can’t fly enough to get up into trees. It can just fly 20m at most.”

John laughs: “A typical teen.”

At the moment the Johns have got four little guests. “One is completely grown up and sleeps on one of the power poles and comes down every day for a feed of fish. We give it about a dozen fish every day. We get them from the stream.

“The other one needs to be protected.”

The Johns’ porch is not bird-tight, but is reasonably safe for the feathered visitors.

“We have it barricaded off. They can get out if they are determined, but it’s quite safe for them.”

And sometimes the little blighters are very determined.

Particularly Papua and Master Shiffo.

“They both left because we don’t have an aviary to keep them in. They were able to fly and up in to trees, but we don’t know if they are able to feed themselves yet.

“We would have preferred to keep them for another few weeks.”

Others just take off, John says. “They need to be picked up time and time again.”

One of the most popular of John’s patients has been a brown noddy, one of four she has been helping in recent times.

In the past six months John has looked after two herons, one muscovy duck, 11 white terns, two brown boobys, four brown noddys, one white-headed petrel fledgling and two red tail tropic bird fledglings.

Some fledglings leave their nests before they are ready.

In the case of terns – whose parents lay their eggs on a tree without a nest, it can be they are either learning to fly, or have fallen out of the branches during storms.

“It could be they are spooked by lightning or thunder, or we have had heavy rain or strong winds.

“If people find them just put them straight back into the tree because the parents will be around. If you don’t see parents within 48 hours and the bird is not looking too energetic then you can bring it down, but it has a better chance with its parents because it will learn to fish and all of that.”

Some of the fledglings are ground nesters and that can lead to trouble with predators.

At the moment John says seabirds are coming in “starving hungry”.

“I’m not sure if it is a worldwide problem, but they were empty. They were light. There’s nothing to them.

“They ate and ate and ate.

“Their food is in the ocean and they go out where fishermen go.

“The fishermen are saying there’s lots of bird action, but they are not diving much. They reckon it’s because there is not a lot of small bait fish.”

John says that all along the North American coast from California all the way to Alaska they have a lot of seabirds coming ashore starving to death.

“And I know on Waiheke in New Zealand the fairy blue penguins are coming in starving.

“They are not coming in to be saved, they’ve passed that stage. Their bodies have shut down. This is a huge planet disaster.

“Because everything fished out so much now we are seeing it go down the food chain.

“A lot of juvenile fish aren’t getting to maturity because they are living on plastic. Their instinct is to eat when the food comes their way and they don’t know it’s plastic.

“And they are dying because they are starving to death. Their stomachs are full, but they’re not getting any nutrition.”

Just collecting enough fish to feed her guests keeps John and her husband Huw on their toes.

“It’s at least an hour every two days catching fish. Sometimes more, when the fish aren’t good.”

John would appreciate it if people could help by supplying fish to her at the centre.

“We would be really grateful,” she says.

And so would her little feathered pals.

For any info on bird rescues please call Sheryl on 58727, or you can find her at the Whale and Wildlife Centre in Atupa, phone 21666.    

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