Casino puts puzzled petrels in a spin - Monday 27th of November 2006

They are not the first young things drawn to SkyCity Casinos bright lights - and left dazed by the experience.

But for fledgling Cooks petrels the problem is navigation, not the lure of filthy lucre.

Since Pacific rats were eradicated from Little Barrier Island off Auckland two years ago, there has been a baby boom of the nocturnal seabirds.

Twenty-five have been rescued from the central Auckland streets around the Sky Tower in the past year, after becoming disoriented and exhausted or having crashed into it.

"Chicks cannot tell much difference between the Sky Tower and the moon," said Auckland University PhD student Matt Rayner.

"They probably fly around and around and get completely confused and down they come."

Rayner said the rat eradication had increased the success rate of adult birds raising eggs from 5% to 70% in two years, and consequently finding confused birds in Auckland would become more common as the population grew.

AdvertisementAdvertisement"You tend to also find a lot in carparks because in the dark they can look like water," said Rayner.

Most rescued birds were taken to Sylvia Durrant at the North Shore Bird Rescue Centre who had managed to get all of them recuperated and back out to sea.

She believed the birds banged into the tower after not understanding that the light was supported from underneath by something solid.

"There it is in the middle of the sky and you do not know about the tower because you have been born on Little Barrier."

Durrant said that on still nights Aucklanders could sometimes hear the petrels flying overhead to feeding grounds on the Manukau Harbour, "going pip, pip, pip".

They have also been known to crash into high-rise buildings and houses with bright lights.

About 100 Cooks petrels were rescued around the greater Auckland region last year, a quarter of them from the Sky Tower.

Durrant said because the birds were evolved for paddling on the water they could not walk well on land and waddled in a way that often made people think they had broken legs.

She said that because they were born on an uninhabited island, they were not afraid of people.

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