Killing with kind­ness

Auckland City Harbour News - - NEWS - By JESS LEE

PARK­GO­ERS could be killing birds with kind­ness dur­ing an in­no­cent out­ing to feed the ducks.

West­ern Springs Park is experiencing an out­break of avian bot­u­lism which can prove fa­tal for wa­ter­fowl due to paral­y­sis.

Bread thrown into lakes and ponds by vis­i­tors want­ing to feed the geese, swans and ducks con­trib­utes to the prob­lem.

The toxin is not harm­ful to hu­mans and is caused by a buildup of or­ganic ma­te­rial in the wa­ter.

Sig­nage is dot­ted around West­ern Springs Park ask­ing vis­i­tors not to feed birds in the lake.

But Bird Res­cue vol­un­teer Heather White says peo­ple are ei­ther ig­nor­ing the signs or don’t see them.

‘‘Ev­ery visit I see at least one per­son throw­ing bread into the lake even when birds aren’t in the vicin­ity,’’ she says.

The Auck­land City Har­bour News spot­ted two groups throw­ing bread into the lake dur­ing a visit last week.

Auck­land Coun­cil lo­cal and sports parks cen­tral manager Jane Aickin says bot­u­lism in­ci­dents aren’t recorded or mon­i­tored so it’s dif­fi­cult to know for cer­tain if the sig­nage is work­ing.

‘‘How­ever, we be­lieve our signs are clear and ef­fec­tively in­form peo­ple of the dan­gers of feed­ing the ducks in the wa­ter,’’ she says. ‘‘The is­sue of feed­ing wa­ter­fowl in lakes/streams is re­gion­wide so any sig­nage re­view would need to be holis­tic.’’

White would like to see larger, more prom­i­nent signs in­stalled around the park, writ­ten in mul­ti­ple lan­guages to alert tourists.

Birds with bot­u­lism are un­able to use their wings or legs nor­mally nor con­trol their eye­lid or neck mus­cles.

Bird Res­cue vol­un­teer Vir­ginia Ni­col says birds with bot­u­lism can of­ten be seen strug­gling to keep their heads above wa­ter and are un­likely to move when ap­proached.

Se­nior fresh­wa­ter ecol­o­gist Matthew Blox­ham says the wa­ter qual­ity in the lake de­te­ri­o­rates in sum­mer when wa­ter tem­per­a­tures in­crease and dis­solved oxy­gen con­cen­tra­tions decline. The bot­u­lism toxin oc­curs in ponds dur­ing long pe­ri­ods of hot and calm weather.

The coun­cil is dis­cussing the wider is­sue of wa­ter qual­ity with the Waitem­ata Lo­cal Board.

White says this out­break ap­pears much worse than in pre­vi­ous years.

‘‘The num­ber of sick birds – mainly ducks – has in­creased dramatically,’’ she says. ‘‘It’s very frus­trat­ing know­ing that it can be pre­vented if the public had a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of the con­se­quences.’’

Avian bot­u­lism can treated if the birds caught early, she says.

‘‘Sadly if they are show­ing be are signs of sick­ness and can’t be caught then the next day they will most likely be too sick to be helped or will have drowned overnight.’’

White would like to see vis­i­tors stop feed­ing bread to the park’s feath­ered res­i­dents al­to­gether. Over­feed­ing birds with starchy food can cause de­formed wing growth, known as an­gel wing, pre­vent­ing birds from fly­ing.

Sick birds can be taken to the Green Bay Bird Res­cue cen­tre be­tween 8am and 5pm. Phone 816 9219 out­side of th­ese hours.

Bread risk: Avian bot­u­lism in­creases when bread is thrown into the wa­ter by well-mean­ing vis­i­tors to feed geese, swans and ducks. Bird res­cue vol­un­teers would like to see sig­nage im­proved to stop this from hap­pen­ing.

Photo: JESS LEE

Missed mes­sage: A woman throws bread into the lake for the birds at West­ern Springs Park, seem­ingly un­aware of signs ask­ing vis­i­tors not to.

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