The Australasian Bittern is a NZ endangered species. There are believed to be fewer than 900 left in the country.
This very shy wading bird lives in swamps and wetlands and eats small fish, frogs and insects. Not much is known about this magnificent big bird as they are hard to find, and when approached they stand still and lift their head upwards so they are as camouflaged as possible.
Kuaotunu Bird Rescue has had several of these birds over the years. They are usually hit by traffic as their habitat is lost or due to the increase of visitors in the summertime.
Bittern conservation (DOC) is contacted when one is admitted, and if release is possible a suitable site is selected. Sometimes it is decided to monitor the bird by strapping a transmitter to the bird. This is not harmful to the bird and will give us a chance to learn more about the bird's behaviour and habitat.
The recent Bittern that arrived from Tairua was found on the side of the road and after X Rays we found a fracture on the top of the tibia (lower leg).
Initially I planned for the bird to be referred to Auckland Zoo or Wildbase Massey University, and DOC at Whitianga was on standby with a helicopter to transport it. But the suggestion was to keep it and avoid the risk of it dying during the trip.
David Thurgood from Whitianga Vet Clinic applied a light cast to keep the fracture stable, and cage rest and good food was the only thing left to do.
However, Bitterns don't like to be handled or seen, and if it doesn't eat in captivity, force feeding is necessary to keep the weight on as well as enabling us to add medication to the food.
This had to be done three times a day. Very stressful to the bird and after it started regurgitating the food, the battle was lost after two weeks.
Sometimes it's hard to know how far to go, but after talking to Bittern Conservation in Christchurch, we know it's the only chance it got, knowing the species are declining.
The body has now been sent to Massey University for an autopsy, but we may never really know the reason for its death. Learning never stops.