A Not So Happy New Year

While I primarily dedicate my blog to crafting, I feel compelled to share this, our tragic end to 2016. This story, I hope, while parts may be confronting, will make you think about the full ramifications of our actions, and impact on our environment we have as humans, in our modern, complex cities.

I am also writing this as personal therapy. I find that putting my thoughts into writing helps me deal with such a sad event. Also, “Liking” this post may feel inappropriate, considering the content. I can assure you I would  not feel it insensitive. Instead, I would see it an acknowledgement of your support and, possibly, your shared sadness about what has happened in our humble backyard.

While everyone else was getting ready to herald in 2017, our home was in wildlife emergency mode, trying to save the life of a local native bird, an Australian Magpie, that had got herself into a seriously sticky situation. 

But, before I continue, let me give you a little background to my story. While we live in the middle of suburbia, we have had a continuous family of Australian Magpies visiting us for almost 20 years. The original birds have passed long ago but their decendants still carry on the familial relationship. As you can imagine, they’re a little like pets in our eyes, even though the are completely wild.

The Magpie family chooses our company, even when there’s no need for a treat (usually minced beef) to be passed across. It’s not uncommon to be working in the garden and have company, right next to you, that will help eradicate the unwanted pests eating your favourite plants. They sometimes go off and “be magpies” for a day but they’re always back for a visit soon enough.

This species is also notorious for their swooping behavior in the breeding season but we’ve discovered they don’t swoop their friends. It’s amazing what peace of mind you can get from a conversation with a Magpie! They’re pretty good at keeping the “pecking order” in place too, keeping the invasive Indian, or Common Myna at bay and, as a result, keeping their numbers down.They are really a pleasure to have around.

Now, back to my story. Late in the afternoon on the 31st December, 2016, we found one of our birds floundering on the roadside with a sticky glue substance stuck to most of her body feathers, as well as her beak, head, eyes and feet. Being familiar to this bird made trying to help her not only instinctive for us, but made it a much easier, stressless experience for our feathered friend.

We soon discovered she had been caught in an insidious rat trap, that uses glue to snare the vermin to the cardboard trap. You may be thinking it’s sad for the bird but the vermin need to go, but how thoughtless was it of a neighbour to place this trap in a position that was easily accessible to such a large bird? And, what would you be thinking if it had been a smaller kitten or puppy that got caught in the trap, a pet that someone had just got for Christmas?

We contacted the local wildlife emergency service who were able to help us to start treatment on the bird quickly enough to give her a fighting chance. We covered her in vinegar soaked tea towels, as instructed, to keep the glue from drying and to help start the glue dissolving process.This bird never thrashed or panicked, she just lay in the dish, holding our fingers in her claws, while we worked to try and relieve her condition. Meanwhile, as three human adults sat around this “bird in a dish”, her Magpie family of three fully sized birds, sat just above us, on the shed roof, watching. They never showed any signs of agitation and never attempted to swoop us. Surprisingly, they showed total understanding of the situation and clearly knew we were there to help. So, the next time you’re called a “bird brain”, take it as a compliment!

The open trap, and the feathers still attached to the glue surface. You can almost make out the shape of the bird on the trap. A wing on the left and right, the body in the centre. The most confronting shape is in the centre top, where the bird’s head had been stuck down. To me, it’s truly an horrific image.

After two hours of trying to soak the bird in vinegar we had only succeeded in removing the glue from her beak, mouth, eyes and legs. We had barely scratched the surface of the glue on her feathers, and with light now fading, we had to step up the urgency of the matter. The wildlife emergency service had put a call out to its volunteers to help rescue the bird but had no answer to their request in the two hours we’d been working. I can only hope that New Year’s celebrations didn’t take precedence.

The wildlife emergency service found us a vet willing to take our bird in to treat her. We then got the bird into the car for a 20 minute drive to that vet. We were all still pretty confident she could be treated. She’d been taking water, via a syringe, when it was offered, which is always a good sign for a stressed bird. She was also still able to let us know when our treatments were pushing things a little too far. She hadn’t given up, and neither had we!

On getting our friend to the vet, she was rushed straight into treatment, where we could hear her voicing her distaste at being handled by strangers. Again, we were hopeful her spirit would help get her through her ordeal. We could do no more and drove home with still a glimmer of hope in our hearts. We were all running on adrenaline and had lost our appetites, for both food and the imminent New Year’s revelry.

The vet anaesthetised the bird for treatment, to alleviate her stress while cleaning the feathers but found she’d done more damage than was apparent. They found the bird had also ruptured her air sacs, crucially needed to push oxygen through to her lungs. The vet was forced euthanase the bird, to save her any further distress and pain.

The vet surmised she had ruptured her air sacs while pulling herself off the glue trap. The trap had stuck to her so completely that it tore the poor bird’s insides as well as her beak, head, eyes and feet.

I apologise for such a grave description of the damage caused but this just shows how cruel form of trap really is. The trap is, by design, indiscriminate and will stick thoroughly to anything that comes close enough. The vet office made the comment that “it’s a particularly cruel manner” to trap and kill any animal. How could anyone disagree?

We are all naturally disappointed more couldn’t be done but we take solace that we saved her from slowly suffocating on the roadside. It was particularly sad that this bird was so young, being only last year’s fledgling. 

The vet was wonderful and generous to take in a wounded native bird and try to treat it. That also alleviates our sadness, to know there are great support services to help our native friends. They deserve a big thanks.

Finally, you may be thinking “get over it, it’s just a bird! I’ll leave you with a picture that may show how much this bird meant to our family.

We feel like we’ve lost a beloved family pet.
With this post, the bird will be remembered and hopefully, will remind us of the consequences of the choices we make and the actions we take.

Disclaimer: At no stage am I claiming the manufacturer or seller of this type of product is responsible for the loss of a member of a protected native species. They cannot be held responsible for how this product is handled after it has been purchased.


4 thoughts on “A Not So Happy New Year

  1. So very sorry for your loss Anne. I have a Magpie pair who trust me completely and honour me with their presence on a daily basis. They come freely and with their fledglings during breeding season.

    They never swoop me or my husband and in fact, Mr Magpie came to my husband’s defence when he was being attacked by our Torresian Crow during their breeding season. He fearlessly went after Mr Crow despite his bigger size.

    I cannot imagine my life without these beautiful birds but unfortunately, not all people realise how delightful and intelligent these birds are. You have to wonder whether the trap was left out to catch birds as well but I sincerely hope it wasn’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Terribly sad to hear that this happened, birds are wonderful creatures and can be so healing to the human soul. Thank you for trying to save the bird too, it takes a great person to be able to help a wild animal. Kia kaha friend

    Liked by 1 person

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