Media release 23 March 2012

By: Conservation  05-Apr-2012

Date: 23 March 2012
Source: Department of Conservation and Wellington Zoo

A juvenile northern giant petrel which landed at Castlepoint two weeks ago is believed to have "hitched" a 500km ride with the wind from its home on the Chatham Islands.

A juvenile northern giant petrel is taught to feed at Wellington Zoo after an epic journey

Found nestled behind the changing rooms at Castlepoint beach on 8 March, and collected by the Department of Conservation (DOC), the bird is now recuperating at Wellington Zoo from a journey described as "amazing" by seabird specialists.

"I can't recall ever seeing a fledgling giant petrel turn up on the mainland with its down still attached," remarked DOC banding and wildlife health manager Graeme Taylor.

"It must have pretty much blown non-stop from its major breeding ground on the Forty-fours (Chathams) to the Wairarapa. Pausing to rest on water would have removed its remaining downy plumage".

The young petrel relished the opportunity to "rest on water" on arrival at The Nest Te KĊhanga at Wellington Zoo.

The vet team at Wellington Zoo have been monitoring the bird closely and x-rays were taken on Friday 16 March to determine whether any damage was sustained on landing.

"When a fledgling has journeyed so far at such a young age, the issues we are looking out for are whether any damage was sustained due to crash landing, kidney failure due to dehydration, and making sure they are at a healthy weight to fly again," says Dr Lisa Argilla Veterinary Science Manager at Wellington Zoo.

"Kidney failure doesn't seem to be an issue, but the bird is at just 2.2kg instead of the usual 4kg. It doesn't quite understand the concept of eating yet, so we are currently hand feeding it salmon, but weaning it at the same time to make sure it knows how to eat on its own when we release it."

The x-rays were clear, and once the bird is waterproofed and strong enough, it will be released.

  • Northern giant petrels breed on many sub Antarctic islands with a world population estimated at 11,500 pairs in the late 1990s.
  • The colony on the Forty-fours is the second largest of this species with an estimated 2000 breeding pairs. The largest colony is on South Georgia Island in South Atlantic Ocean.
  • Northern giant petrels have an interesting but distasteful lifestyle. Males scavenge on dead animals (seals, whales and seabirds) while females eat mainly fish and squid.

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