© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Close Encounters at the Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre

© NZPocketGuide.com

338 Days on the Road

New Zealand’s birds are pretty freakin’ amazing. Many of our activities of this 365 Days: 365 Activities have included hiking through New Zealand’s forests where we profusely describe the sounds and sights of New Zealand’s native birds. If you are not already a bird nerd before you take the leap to do a gap year in New Zealand, then you certainly will be after you have seen some of the weird and wonderful creatures that live here.

The Whangarei Bird Recovery Centre

But today, we are not creeping through forests trying to spot tui, fantail, silvereye, robins, tomtits, bellbirds, etc. We are in Whangarei which is home to the Bird Recovery Centre. This is where injured birds are brought in from all over the northern regions of New Zealand to be nursed back to health so they can be released back into the wild again. This is so important because mass human migration to New Zealand has dramatically changed habitats for native birds and introduced a whole lot of new threats. To prevent any more of New Zealand’s birds from becoming extinct, it’s important to keep bird population numbers as high as possible so they can breed and keep doing their thing. Their thing is pretty fascinating to watch, which the Bird Recovery Centre allows visitors to see for themselves and truly appreciate how amazing these birds are.

Bunkdown Lodge connections

Although you can visit the Bird Recovery Centre, which is a mere 10-minutes out of Whangarei off State Highway 14 just behind Kiwi North, by just wandering in and checking out the birds in the aviaries, you can get an added special experience if you stay at the Bunkdown Lodge. Our host, Peter, has a good relationship with Rob who started the Bird Recovery Centre with his wife 25 years ago. Ask Peter, and he is happy to organise an afternoon with Rob to see a kiwi bird!

Learning more about the native birds in New Zealand

So thanks to Peter at Bunkdown, we are meeting Rob at the Bird Recovery Centre one fine afternoon in Whangarei. Before we even enter the centre, the trees are full of white doves! A pretty unusual sight in New Zealand but pretty cool to watch nonetheless. Then we meet Rob, whose passion for birds is obvious from the get-go. He take us into an information centre where the ceiling is covered in an array of seabird taxidermies including the largest in the world, the Royal Albatross. Here, Rob tells us about his kiwi bird, Sparky, who he has raised from a chick. Sparky lost one of his legs in a trap so was unfit to go back out into the wild. Now Sparky is used for educational purposes and seems to have had more adventures around New Zealand than we have.

Seeing kingfishers up-close

After Rob has educated us a little more about the threats to birds in New Zealand, as well as more about the grand life of Sparky, he takes us into the aviary. We first see a pair of kingfishers that are due to be released tomorrow. They are birds we have seen only a handful of times at a distance in New Zealand, but seeing them this close allows us to appreciate their unusually large head and beak in proportion to their body, as well as their beautiful blue and orange feathers.

Awesome close viewing of a real kiwi bird!

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A talking tui!

The next birds we see are chattering away to each other – one of them is not even meant to be here! A tui regularly comes back to the aviary to pick up some easy eats. This wild tui talks away with warbles and clicks to the tui that are currently kept in the aviaries. At the sound of Rob’s voice saying: “Come on! How’s your cold!” One of the tui repeat this sentence back to him in the same low-pitch voice! Woah! We have never seen a tui do that! Rob tells us stories of how various tui in the past have had conversations with visitors – just to convey their amazing mimicking ability. Even if we don’t see a kiwi bird today, the talking tui alone is a reason you have to visit the Bird Recovery Centre!

Birds of prey and other visitors

More enclosures hold birds of prey like a couple of harrier hawks that had been hit by cars. When their feathers have properly grown back, they will fly once again. The next enclosure is not meant to hold a bird of prey but a tiny native owl called a morepork makes use of a sheltered bird house nonetheless! Rob laughs and says the bird also used to live in the aviary. The birds just love it here! This very same enclosure is the home of Sparky!

Meeting Sparky the kiwi bird!

Rob takes the North Island brown kiwi out of his enclosure, placing him onto the grass right next to us. Wow, we have never seen a kiwi bird so close… and in the daylight! (Well, we did see one in the wild in the afternoon on Stewart Island but it was a fleeting moment). The kiwi puts its long bill on the ground, then will suddenly probe it into the ground to pull out a long fat worm! Rob explains Sparky’s behaviour as it goes, and he really is fascinating to watch! Not only that, but we can see the details of the bird extremely well, from its large Jurassic-like legs to the whiskers on its face. Rob even encourages us to touch its seemingly fluffy feathers which are actually quite wiry. Sparky really doesn’t seem to be bothered by us all ogling at him, since he has been around people all his life.

Close encounter with a harrier hawk

We get plenty of time and photos with Sparky, who is just happy to pull worms out of the ground all day. Then Rob is putting him back in his enclosure and taking us to have one more close encounter: an encounter with a harrier hawk. Rob goes into the recovery centre and brings out a young harrier hawk in his arms. Again, we feel extremely lucky to be seeing this magnificent bird of prey up-close. Rob tells us that the bird keeps its mouth open to get more oxygen when it is feeling stressed, so we don’t bother the bird for too long but it does allow us to see the unusual details inside of its curved beak. Rob knows how to handle birds, so it keeps completely still for the whole time, with the exception of Rob putting the harrier’s wing around Laura’s shoulder(?!)

Back where we began: the Bunkdown

Our unique New Zealand bird experience comes to an end when we say goodbye to Rob. Although it is free to visit the aviary, donations are welcome to help continue the work they are doing here.

We tell Peter all about the experience (which we are sure he has head a million times) when we get back to Bunkdown Lodge, and we spent another relaxing night here in the hostel.

Join us tomorrow where we are going to be checking out some more free activities around Whangarei!

The hospitalised harrier hawk has visitors

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