Shy customer: Meet SA’s bird of the year

2012-05-08 00:00

IT’S National Bird Week in the year in which the African fish eagle has been selected Bird of the Year.

One such creature is Neptune who lives at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary near the Lion Park at Camperdown.

What makes him different to other African fish eagles is that, sadly, he cannot fly.

“He hit an overhead cable or powerline and severed the tip off his right wing,” said sanctuary director Shannon Hoffman.

The accident happened in Richards Bay, where a marked increase in industry and development around the harbour in recent years has put pressure on the wildlife that make the area their home.

Shannon described Neptune as a “very shy” bird.

“He is small and sweet and will live with us forever,” she told The Witness.

All the birds housed at the sanctuary are either captive-bred or birds that cannot be released because they can no longer survive in the wild.

The African fish eagle is one of 81 bird of prey species resident in South Africa.

Nearly a quarter of these species are now listed in the Red Data Book as being in need of active conservation to survive.

In the wild, fish eagle pairs live near estuaries, dams and water courses where they scoop fish up to almost the half their own size.

The sanctuary states that more than 70% of birds of prey die in their first year.

The one bird in every four that does survive is threatened by human encroachment in the form of habitat degradation, poisoning, power-line damage or collisions with motor vehicles.

At Raptor Rescue, a dedicated bird of prey rehabilitation facility that operates behind the scenes at the African Bird of Prey Sanctuary, injured and orphaned birds of prey are rescued, treated, rehabilited and released.

“Birds of prey are high-performance creatures,” said Raptor Rescue manager, Ben Hoffman.

“They require very specialised treatment, care and, most importantly, fitness training in order to be successfully rehabilitated back into the wild after injury.”

Late last year Raptor Rescue completed what is the longest fitness flight tunnel in the world.

The tunnel, 72 metres long and five metres wide, is a timber conditioning structure for large raptors, like eagles, vultures and secretary birds. It had for many years been an expensive pipedream for Hoffman.

BirdLife South Africa has made available lesson plans for teachers and an activity book for learners at www.birdlife.org.za/events/national-bird-week.

National Bird Week started yesterday and ends on May 12. For more about the sanctuary, visit www.

africanraptor.co.za.

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