Great Kereru Count & Ozzy the Falcon

The Great New Zealand Kereru Count – billed as the largest national citizen science project – started on September 16 and runs until September 25. If you see one, or more, of our beautiful wood pigeons go to the website and enter as many details as you can. There are apps and everything!

I spotted this pigeon pair of Hemiphaga novaeseelandiae in a Te Puke garden last Friday so was thrilled to take be able to part in the count. Photo: Sandra Simpson

During my stay in Wanaka in April, I was fairly sure I’d seen a native falcon zooming down the main street/lakeshore. It turns out you can log sightings of these amazing birds too. Dave Bell, who runs the website, got back to me and confirmed that it would have been a falcon (karearea; Falco novaeseelandiae).

“We have had a couple of other reports in recently for falcon seen on the lake front, so very much suspect probably a juvenile has taken up residence (plenty of prey) after being moved on from adults’ territory. It’s the time of year when this happens.”

The other place to see a native falcon up close – and in action – is at Wingspan, the national bird of prey centre on the outskirts of Rotorua.

Showtime for Ozzy. Photo: Sandra Simpson

Ozzy the falcon is one of the ‘ambassadors’ at Wingspan and has been trained to free-fly in Wingspan’s daily show at 2pm. However, his handler, and Wingspan founder, Debbie Stewart says that although he climbs on her shoulder and head, it shouldn’t be mistaken for loyalty or affection. “I have the food.”

“It takes 5 days for them to revert to their wild nature,” Debbie says. “After that they won’t recognise their handler or return to them.” Wingspan also has owls and harrier hawks in the viewing aviaries but the falcons are the star of the show. Watching Ozzy zoom up and then fall vertically, make 90-degree turns and ‘sleek down’ ready for take-off was fascinating. We were warned that our seats were in his direct line of flight from the aviary roof to a perching post – but I was startled to hear a ruffle of feathers as he zipped past my ear, close enough to touch! Apparently falcons have eyesight that is 80-times more powerful than ours so I guess he meant to do that!

If you’re looking at the falcon on the back of one of our brand-new ‘brighter’ $20 notes, you’re looking at Ozzy as he was the model for the engraver. See the bank note here. And yes, he was named for Ozzy Osbourne – unsteady on his feet, prone to falling over (he’s had tail feathers glued in more than once to replace broken ones) as he skids to a halt. More than 7800 birds have been released into the wild from Wingspan’s rehabilitation and captive breeding programmes since the centre opened 20 years ago.