Operator of the Whanganui Bird Rescue, Dawne Morton is one of the coolest people I have ever met. She has devoted her entire life to helping birds and educating the public, and if that’s not my life goal I don’t know what is. The Whanganui bird rescue is a small property with about 18 different aviaries in rotation. Dawne runs the place on her own with some assistance from volunteers, including Jacob Honn, Caroline Wolf-Merritt, and myself for about six weeks. We would arrive at 9am, and Dawne would let us know she’d been up for 4 hours already, preparing food and feeding the native owls, the ruru. Ruru, or morepork, are a species of owl that get fed at the bird rescue twice a night. Interestingly, they like to cache their food in hidden alcoves in their aviaries, so sometimes you just walk under a pile of dead chicks.
We would start our morning feeding our respective birds. By the third or so week, we got a rhythm going of who fed which birds. My job was always to feed the biggest birds on site, the native pigeon known as the kereru. The kereru eat mostly fruit and live in the forests. They are one of the most important seed dispersers in modern New Zealand. Dawne usually has a lot of kereru. At peak in our time there she had 14 of them, and has had more. The pleasure of working with these birds was learning just how much variation there was between birds. Each individual had a different kind of food they liked best, would behave differently when I entered their space, and would use their perches and waters differently too. Even though they all look so similar, there was such huge differences could be observed.
Ziggy, the Australian Magpie (photo by me)
Whenever anyone visits the bird rescue, they get an “affectionate” hello from Ziggy. Ziggy is an Australian Magpie, meaning he’s territorial. Very territorial. Whenever you approach his aviary, he’ll jump up to the bars and try to peck at your arms (see photo). This is because he has been imprinted, which means he thinks of Dawne as his “mate”. Thus, he wants anyone other than his mate to stay as far away as possible. Ziggy also had a lot of words he liked to say, including “go away!”, and “hello there”. He had some partners in crime, named Jeffery and Maggie. Because people don’t know how to sex magpies, Jeffery was a female, and Maggie was a male. The three of them were once pets, and now stay at the bird rescue because if they were released into the wild, they would not find a new mate, and would either attack all other magpies or would be attacked by other magpies.
I cannot mention all the birds, so I will finish up with one of the most well-known New Zealand birds: the kiwi. As I’m sure you know, dear reader, the kiwi is the symbol of New Zealand. Honestly, though, it’s less of a bird and more of a “mammal” in the role it plays in its environment. The kiwi, like many mammals, is nocturnal, has poor eyesight, relies on smell to find prey, can’t fly, and has very fur-like feathers. Every time I have seen a kiwi, they have successfully made me cry from sheer joy. I can’t really explain why, but seeing these rare, nocturnal birds is an experience like no other. There’s no comparable creature, and they can only be seen here.
The kiwi at the bird rescue (photo by Caroline Wolfe-Merritt)
The image here is of the kiwi at the bird rescue. Her beak is bent in such a way that she cannot feed in the wild, which happened after she was hit by a car. She has been raised from less than a year old at the bird rescue, and is now 12 years old. Kiwi can live to be 50 or 60 years old, and thus this kiwi is in her teenage years. She has reached an age where she has become more territorial, and her aviary is her territory. Thus, we aren’t allowed (by Dawne) to venture any further into the aviary than right inside the door. Luckily for us, Dawne can feed the kiwi right by the door, meaning we had a chance to meet this lovely lady in person.
Dawne’s devotion and dedication to the bird rescue is one of the most inspiring things I have ever seen. She puts her all into the bird rescue every day, lives on site, and stops her day to teach anyone who wants to learn. Above all, she loves working there, and loves all of her birds. We were so inspired by working with Dawne that we returned to the bird rescue twice outside of our internship period. On our first return visit, we brought out our fellow classmates so they could see what all the fuss was about. The second return, we spent the day with Dawne, working on odd jobs and talking about our independent projects. She helped us out so much by providing personal experience, expert contacts, and resources. Dawne’s given me an idea of something I’d love to do with my life. I’ll truly never forget my time at the Whanganui bird rescue.
If you want to know more about the bird rescue, you can visit their website at http://birdrescue.co.nz/