By Annelise Machen
Early in December a family in Chapel Hill (let's call them "the Smiths" - not their real name) discovered three young Kookaburras. The Smiths had found them on the ground in a park near their home, unable to fly.
Concerned, they brought the three to me, and I was happy to find that they were all perfectly healthy. Question is, what happens now? If left on the ground, they could be taken by predators, or worse.
It seems they had out-grown their home (built in an old termite nest), and had fluttered some 4 meters to the ground. However the nest was in a tree on one side of a footpath - on the other side was a steep incline, with a creek flowing below, and also a busy road nearby. Once on the ground, with no protective covering for the young kookaburras to hide, they were vulnerable to all of those new dangers. The chicks had not yet mastered any upward flight and were totally dependent on the parents. Also the weather condition was poor and a storm was imminent.
I decided to feed them and keep them overnight to assess their condition. The three birds were differing in size, had probably hatched days apart, and were at different stages of development, which meant that they would fledge at different times.
The Smiths two primary school-aged children really wanted to be involved. It was extremely pleasing to see that the family was so willing to be part of the feeding, reuniting and releasing of the young birds.
The following morning I met up with the Smiths at the park, and they showed me where the youngsters had been found. I had not fed them, as I wanted them to be hungry to make them call out for their parents. Instantly, several adult Kookaburras arrived on the scene to care for the brood. I had the young birds in a cardboard box with openings at either side, big enough for them to look out of, and to get fed by the adult birds, which happened within minutes.
We then discussed just how the box could be secured high in the tree to keep the young birds out of harms way. Mr Smith had a step-ladder, and also found an assortment of materials to build a platform upon which the box could be secured. He set to it, and soon produced a stable platform alongside the tree. The cardboard box was then strapped to the platform, where the chicks could be fed and cared for by the adult birds.
In the evening, the box with the birds was brought down and locked in the Smith's garage to protect the chicks from predators. They would also give them a support feed of sliced beef heart that I had provided.
Early in the morning, the Smiths would let the chicks out onto their lawn for them to make contact with their family group, with the quickly arriving parent birds bringing food. The young birds still could not fly, so were again lifted up in their new "nest" to spend another day up the tree.
During the whole time of this process the adult kookaburras were not fazed by this human interference. They stood off watching without any sign of distress, and seemed to be aware that good was being done to help their young off-spring.
Many passers-by were fascinated by this procedure and came to look, only to be quickly scolded by the adult birds. Next day the adult birds knew where they were overnight and woke the Smith family up at dawn, demanding their chicks be allowed out to be fed.
This ritual continued for several more days, until the oldest chick decided it was time, and clumsily made an upward flight to join the family group. For the other two, it was back in the box. They too made their debut flights safely within the next couple of days.
The Smiths were the ones that were woken up at five each morning for about a week! Not me!
(photos courtesy of the "Smith family")
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