Rescuing Raptors: An Interview with New Zealand Young Birder Bonnie Tranter

By Sarah Toner November 9, 2016

Bonnie with a Ruru or Morepork. All photographs by Angela Torrie.

Bonnie is an 11 year-old young birder living in Christchurch, New Zealand. She works with rehabilitating injured raptors such as the threatened New Zealand Falcon and the native Ruru or Morepork, a type of owl. Recently, she has gotten involved with the Young Birders NZ organization, which seeks to encourage young New Zealand residents to learn about their local birds and find other peers interested in birds and birding. We interviewed her about her experiences working with New Zealand raptors.
How did your interest in birds begin?
We have domestic birds at home–lorikeets & parrots–then last year my mum began working at the local wildlife hospital that looks after sick and injured wild birds, and I helped her there.  We worked there for a year, and I learned a lot about birds (which I really enjoyed), and then earlier this year we moved across to Canterbury Raptor Rescue that specialises in hawks, falcons, and owls.

What’s a day at the raptor rescue like?

 Some days if we don’t get any new birds in, we just have to observe and feed the birds in the flight rehab aviary in the evening.

Bonnie with an injured New Zealand Hawk or Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Bonnie with an injured New Zealand Hawk or Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

If we get a phone call about an injured bird, sometimes the people who found it have caught it, and we just have to pick it up from them, but sometimes they haven’t caught it, and we have to go to where it is and catch it.  As they are injured, this isn’t usually that hard, and once we have it, we take it for a vet check.  Sometimes it’s too sick or injured to survive, and the vet will have to euthanise it. Otherwise, it stays with the vet for treatment before coming to us for rehabilitation before release.

What are some of your favorite moments from volunteering there?
     I enjoy working with the advocacy birds and going to fairs and other places to show them to people. Lots of people haven’t seen them up close before and it’s nice to see their reactions and talk to them about the birds. When my mum brought an owl to my class at school, all my classmates were very excited and really enjoyed the experience as none of them had ever seen one in real life before.

What have you learned about raptors and birds since you started?

Bonnie with a New Zealand Hawk or Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

Bonnie with a New Zealand Hawk or Swamp Harrier (Circus approximans)

     I have learned so much!  I have learned which are native to New Zealand and which are endangered.  Also, I have learned the causes for most of the injuries or illnesses and how to treat them.  I have learned how to handle birds, especially raptors, as you have to be careful to have them under control and know where their talons are. And I’ve learned lots about where they hang out and how they live, hunt, eat, and breed.

Can you tell us about your experiences with Young Birders New Zealand?
     I got involved with Young Birders after subscribing to their magazine.  After seeing they wanted stories and photos to share in the magazine, I started writing for them about my experiences.  Then I was lucky enough to meet George Hobson–one of the Founders of Young Birders New Zealand–in person when I visited Zealandia to release some rare skinks and we have remained in touch.
Bonnie with a Ruru or Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae)

Bonnie with a Ruru or Morepork (Ninox novaeseelandiae)

Do you want to continue working with birds when you grow up?

     Maybe not specifically or only with birds, but I definitely want to work in an animal/wildlife related job. I also volunteer at a Farm Education Park on Sundays and I really enjoy all the animals and birds there too.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
     I really wish more young people were exposed to our birds in New Zealand so that they could learn how interesting they are and then want to learn more about them.
For more information about the unique birds of New Zealand, explore the Macaulay Library and recent checklists from New Zealand!
Sarah Toner