I had the honour of visiting Sylvia Durrants’ home in Mairangi Bay last week. Sylvia is commonly known in Auckland as ‘The Bird Lady’. Any bird that needs rehabilitation, care, or rescue, is taken to her to be looked after, and when they’re healed, they are let go back into the wild. Whether they’ve been caught by a cat, or fallen out of a nest, they make their way somehow to Sylvia’s place, through members of the public dropping them off, or a team of volunteers that collect them if you are unable to get them there.
New Zealand Tui. Years ago, on the way home from school, my daughter picked up a Tui out of the gutter and brought it to me. It seemed to be absolutely stunned, but otherwise okay. I happened to be in bed with a really bad dose of flu, so bad I couldn’t even get up, so here I was, lying in bed, with a Tui on my pillow next to me. Most odd! Naturally we had shut the cats out of the room!! I rang Sylvia who instructed us to pop it in a box in a hot water cupboard, and that she’d send round someone to pick it up seeing I couldn’t move. Sure enough an hour or two later, there was someone to collect the bird. As Tui’s are territorial, Anne had to show the volunteer where it was found, so it could be released in the same area once it was okay. I’ve never forgotten this, and when my cats bring in the odd bird, I pop it in the hot water cupboard for 24 hours, and if it’s still alive and okay I’ll release it. Most of them die unfortunately, although we do now have a budgie that my Burmese Blue brought in. It’s a worry when your pets bring home their own pets!!
Tui Taken with Canon EOS 20D Shutter Speed: 1/100 sec F/5.6 300mm ISO400
Anyway, back to my visit to Sylvia’s - leading up to her door, are rows of cages, each with different birds. So many I can’t remember all of them, but from what I remember there four young Tui’s which their mother had abandoned, a Wood Pigeon a baby Gull, Doves, and in the bigger pens, some little blue penguins and a white faced heron. We were taken inside, and there were young blackbirds, young finches, white-eyes, a young morepork, and a young Kingfisher with a broken wing. Into another room were the real babies – canaries, blackbirds, thrushes, skylarks and kingfishers. And in the Kitchen was a baby morepork owl.
Young Kingfisher with Broken Wing, caught by a cat. Canon EOS 20D 1/60 second F/2.8 100 mm ISO100
I love birds myself, and I was in absolute awe with Sylvia’s devotion in helping these birds back to life. Never have I seen someone so passionate about what she’s doing. Ask the right questions and you get given a wealth of information about each bird, their food sources, their behavior, the particular dangers they face, why they were brought in to her, and how far they’ve come along.
Having my camera was no problem , and I was able to take a lot of photos. Sylvia brought out a number of nests that she had in boxes, and placed some of the baby birds in the right nests, which meant I could get more ‘natural’ images. What amazed me was that as soon as she put these babies in the nests, they would snuggle down and go to sleep immediately. Their own safety haven.
Baby Kingfisher Canon EOS 20D 1/80 second F/2.8 100 mm ISO100
Sylvia’s favourite bird to rehabilitate are the Little Blue Penguins. For some reason there is not a lot of food for them in the Auckland Harbour probably due to overfishing. You can see their plight here in this newspaper article of 2006 here. There were three in residence when I visited, one very underweight one, and two looking a bit healthier. I got to stroke them and they are so soft. Not really like bird feathers at all, which really surprised me. They get taken down to the rockpools at the beach to keep their swimming strength up, and Sylvia’s dog has become a ‘sheep dog’ or a ‘penguin dog’ in this case. He stops the birds from making an escape to the sea before they’re ready to go by growling at them.
Young Little Blue Penguin. As they get older they lose their 'blue' colour. Canon EOS 20D 1/100 second F5.6 300mm ISO200
This year, Sylvia Durrant was given the New Zealand Order of Merit for services for Wildlife. In my opinion, it’s very much deserved.