Poisoner targeting town’s pigeons

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A mysterious pigeon poisoner is ruffling feathers with Oamaru bird lovers.

Eight poisoned pigeons have been seen by Oamaru Bird Rescue’s Ayla Ferguson and her mother, Liz, in the past few weeks.

‘‘We’ve treated six, and unfortunately we didn’t get to another two in time. They were already dead when we got called,’’ Mrs Ferguson said.

The pigeons had been poisoned with alphachloralose, and the pair thought there were probably more bird victims than they were aware of.

‘‘We suspect whoever is doing it is doing the rounds and picking up as many as they can find. I should imagine that the eight that we’ve seen is just the tip of the iceberg of what’s really happening.’’

The Fergusons’ own rescue pigeons, which they had raised from fledglings after being hit by a car a year ago, were also feared dead.

‘‘They haven’t been back for over a week, so I suspect they’ve fallen victim to it as well, which is really heartbreaking, because we raised them, then we soft-released them from our place, and they would come back twice a day for food, and then go home and roost in town . . . but yeah, we haven’t seen them for probably two weeks now.’’

It was not the first time Oamaru pigeons had been targeted by the poison, with the bait found on the ground in Harbour St, ‘‘randomly thrown around’’ in 2020 and 2021, Mrs Ferguson said.

This time affected pigeons had been found along Thames St near Abacus House, The Business Hive and Fat Sally’s Bar and Restaurant, as well as at the Esplanade.

‘‘We’ve never seen the poisoning so far up in town. In 2020 and 2021 it was just the historic precinct.’’

Although the pigeons were not protected, they did tend to keep the seagulls away, and poisoning them was inhumane, she said.

‘‘It’s a public safety risk too — you can’t throw around poison like that.’’

Recovered . . . Oamaru Bird Rescue’s Ayla Ferguson releases a pigeon she and her mother Liz had nursed back to health after it was found poisoned. PHOTO: ASHLEY SMYTH

A poisoned pigeon would sit ‘‘puffed up’’ on the ground, and could easily be picked up, although she warned handling them without gloves could cause illness.

If people did come across a pigeon, Mrs Ferguson said they could make contact with Oamaru Bird Rescue through Facebook. They would come and collect it and start treating it straight away with activated charcoal, and by warming them.

Those that were nursed back to health had been released, but ran the risk of being re-poisoned.

Mrs Ferguson understood the Waitaki District Council did cull pigeons, but that they were not responsible for the poisonings.

Council property manager Renee Julius said pigeons were not a protected species under the Wildlife Act, and were considered a pest in Oamaru, but the council did not condone the poisoning.

‘‘Yes, we do actively try to reduce pigeons from roosting on our heritage buildings, as they can create costly issues,’’ Mrs Julius said.

‘‘Council’s contractor uses methods that easily identifies the type of bird and culls the pigeons as humanely as possible.

‘‘Council does not support the poisoning of birds, particularly in an urban environment where other protected bird species reside.’’

Oamaru Bird Rescue was started by Ayla about eight years ago ‘‘accidentally’’, when she discovered a sick bird on their property. It was an entirely self-funded operation.

‘‘Which can get quite expensive,’’ she said.

The duo mainly cares for common birds. Any natives which come to their attention are referred to the Department of Conservation.

‘‘Most of our rescues are really young babies, that have had run›ins with young cats and things,’’ Mrs Ferguson said.