Saturday, 20 July 2019

WHITIANGA WEATHER

First surviving Kuaotunu Bird Rescue bittern to be released into the wild

A bittern that is at the moment being looked after by Annemieke Kregting and her team at Kuaotunu Bird Rescue will soon be banded and released back into the wild.

Bitterns are rarely seen. This is due to their secretive behaviour, inconspicuous plumage and the inaccessibility of their habitat. Their presence is most commonly discerned through hearing the distinctive “booming” call of the males during breeding season. Bitterns occasionally show themselves in the open along wetland edges, drains and flooded paddocks or roadsides, often adopting their infamous “freeze” stance, with the bill pointing skyward.

The Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), also known as the brown bittern or matuku hūrepo, is a large bird in the heron family Ardeidae. Australasian bitterns are endangered in both Australia and New Zealand. The principal cause of the birds’ past and ongoing decline is thought to be wetland drainage and degradation.

The bittern in the care of Kuaotunu Bird Rescue was found on 10 March in the vicinity of the old timber mill in Tairua. Kuaotunu local Ella Kington saw the bird staggering on the roadside on her way home and bravely picked it up with a jacket (brave as bitterns can bite with the speed of a speargun).

“Ella brought the bittern straight here and I found it be in very poor condition and very underweight,” says Annemieke. “Fluids was administered and the bird was placed on a heat pad. 

The next day I took it to Whitianga vets. Dave Thurgood, one of the vets, gave it an anaesthetic so we could take blood tests and x-rays. I was a wee bit suspicious about toxins because of the old mill and what maybe lying around there. 

“We found nothing on the x-rays and the next day the blood results were clear as well.” 

Annemieke continued to provide the bird with fluids twice daily. She also made up liquid food out of sardines, other high protein ingredients and electrolytes, which was given to the bittern through a crop tube. It was a careful and delicate procedure twice daily to feed the extremely stressed bird. After a few days, Annemieke and her team started feeding the bird little fish one by one. It responded well and ate more and more each day.

“After a week, the bittern was eating by itself and I moved it into an aviary, says Annnemieke. “It was picking fish out of a big trough that was refilled several times a day. 

“I contacted a bittern conservation group and was advised to release the bird back to the Tairua wetlands. The Department of Conservation was also notified because of its endangered status.”

DOC will release the bird in Tairua once its desirable weight is reached. This is the fourth bittern that has been taken to Kuaotunu Bird Rescue, but the first one to survive. 

Bittern numbers in New Zealand declined greatly following the destruction of 90 per cent of their wetland habitat to create farmland and towns. Ongoing habitat loss is still considered one of their greatest threats, although predators, poor water quality and reduced food availability may have contributed to population declines. Recent radio-tracking studies have suggested that winter starvation many be contributing to population declines. Nest success and chick/female survival is also suspected to be particularly low.

Pictured: The bittern in the care of Annemieke Kregting and her team at Kuaotunu Bird Rescue.

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