MARS staff help swans, eagles in North Island

An underweight swan found wandering the Gold River Highway is now recovering, with the help of the Mountainaire Avian Rescue Society.

Reg Westcott, supervisor of animal care for MARS said the bird was found on the highway by a passing driver who returned to the Strathcona Park Lodge to call the organization.

“It’s not really a trumpeter swan breeding ground,” he explained of the area where the swan was found. “They’re essentially like jumbo jets – the can’t take off from a little runway so she could have been near a small lake, didn’t have food and couldn’t take off. It’s really all a guess how it landed where it was.”

Westcott said he has worked with swans for more than 13 years. He and his team at MARS will work with the emaciated bird to improve its health, before sending it to a rehabilitation facility closer to its natural breeding ground.

He estimated the swan should weigh around nine kilograms, but came in around 30 per cent underweight at around six. Males weigh a bit more, he explained, around 12 kg.

“If we can get her fed enough and have her running across the pen here, there is a chance of survival, and then we could look at sending her north.”

They also received a sub-adult swan last week, which they are assisting. Westcott noted the amount of rescued swans vary from year-to-year.

In addition to the swans, MARS is also seeing a growing problem with eagles: lead poisoning. Westcott explained it is quickly becoming a growing problem, as the lead from shotgun pellets that end up in waterways and eventually in the gravel/sand shorelines are gleaned by eagles as they are trying to break up the bits to search for seed.

MARS has seen six bald eagles in the last two months with lead poisoning, and thanks to a financial donation from a volunteer, it is now in the process of purchasing a diagnostic machine to assist.

“(What the eagles are eating) are so tiny. Two number seven pellets are the size of half of a match head. It’s a big concern; we nurse these eagles and we’re helping them, and it affects (the staff) dramatically when one doesn’t make it.”

He added once they have the new machine, staff are hoping it will help when an injured eagle isw admitted to the facility, as they can check to see if the bird might be carrying a partial lead load.

To report orphaned, ill or injured wildlife, call 250-337-2021. To support MARS as a member or as a volunteer, visit marswildliferescue.com.

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