Over the past two months, an estimated 50 dead and dying birds have been found in gardens in the vicinity of Crampton Court and Hatton Road, Orewa.
Doves, pigeons, thrushes and sparrows as well as a wax-eye have been found dead, or flopping around on the ground unable to fly.
The problem began in October and since then Jayne and Bob Llovell have dealt with around 15 birds in this condition, a few of which Bob managed to revive by placing them in a dark, safe place. Neighbours and residents of nearby streets, including Jock Cameron and Roy Whittaker, found a similar number on their properties. They have also assisted elderly or disabled neighbours to bury birds.
The residents suspect that the distressing problem is caused by someone feeding the birds ‘sleepy wheat’, which is wheat laced with a sedative. Forest and Bird agrees that this appears the most likely scenario.
It is not illegal to use sleepy wheat – a substance that is used mainly in rural areas on ‘pest birds’. It is supposed to be used to sedate birds, so they can be collected, humanely killed and disposed of but if this is the substance responsible in Orewa, the birds are instead being left to die of starvation or because they are unable to fend off cats.
“It sounds like a local person is using sleepy wheat incorrectly, and in a residential area,” Forest and Bird’s Pest Free Hibiscus Coast coordinator Jenny Hanwell says, noting that it is illegal to poison native birds. Confirmation of the cause would require a necropsy by a vet but residents are worried about the cost.
They say birds are plentiful in their neighbourhood, due to a nearby park and trees, and watching so many of them struggle to move has been horrible.
Several have been partly eaten by cats.
“Some of the bigger birds recover and fly away – if they are not run over or attacked by other animals before they can recuperate,” Jayne says. “Smaller birds like wax-eyes and a young thrush had no chance at all. We want it stopped because it’s very distressing. We are burying a lot of dead birds and none of us should have to put up with this,” she says.
Forest and Bird suggests putting affected birds somewhere warm, dark and safe, which can revive them depending on how much of the substance they have ingested.