Exotic seabird found in Calitzdorp

The red-tailed tropicbird in the Cango Wildlife Ranch’s Animal Care Centre Pool. Photo supplied

The natural world is full of mysteries – but few surpass the tale of the lone migratory seabird, that was found by a young boy in the semi-desert town of Calitzdorp, 80 km from the closest beach.

The red-tailed tropicbird breeds on remote tropical islands as far east as the Hawaiian Islands, and also on the south-west Australian coast. Outside of breeding season they may travel as far north as Japan and as far south as New Zealand. They are also known to breed on the coast of Mozambique.

South Africans very rarely come across these “air dancers”, with the last believed sighting being four years ago near Port Elizabeth … until 2 February when a call was placed to the Cango Wildlife Ranch in Oudtshoorn about an “odd-looking bird” found in Bergsig in Calitzdorp by the young boy named Joseph.

Joseph lives in the north-Western side of Royal Heights in Calitzdorp – a community often exposed to unemployment, poverty and crime.

On Friday, 1 February, at dusk he noticed a group of peers circling around something and upon investigation, walked in on what bird enthusiasts would refer to as the most bizarre bird sighting in recent Klein Karoo history. A true hero at heart, he saved the bird from the crowds and took him to the one person he knew would be able to help – Karen Whitely, resident and animal welfare activist. She delivered the bird at Cango Wildlife Ranch, to a baffled and intrigued Cango Wildlife Ranch team.

The bird was swiftly examined by a veterinarian and had no injuries. He weighed 550 g, which is a little skinny, but not far off from its 600 g-800 g range.

Upon sound advice from a specialist in the marine bird field, the Cango Wildlife team started feeding him squid, which he has taken to. He is becoming more and more energetic. Human contact causes damage to the bird’s waterproof plumage, which means the team always use gloves when working with the rescued bird. Due to their species-specific need for water, three lukewarm baths (between 29 – 30 degrees Celsius) are drawn for him every day for much needed and much enjoyed swim time!

The Cango Wildlife Ranch has reported the bird to SANCCOB (The Southern African Foundation for the Conservation of Coastal Birds) and applied for the required permits to transport him to their facility in Cape Town.