English visitor goes all bird-brained


When I hear I’ll be going to Queens­town’s Kiwi Birdlife Park I imagine a lot of woodland and some well-camouflaged birds. 

It sounds nice but not something worth writing home to England about. Five minutes in, I’m so riveted I want to abandon journalism and take up a career in wildlife conservation. 

The 40-minute show begins with a Maori welcome after which a gigantic, brightly-coloured bird named Hugo swoops across the audience from one keeper to another. 

A possum, the evil creature I’ve heard so much about, scampers past the bird right on cue. Named Pestilence, he is there to illustrate why so many New Zealand birds are endangered. 

There is audible shock from the largely Australian audience when we are told to “go shopping and buy lots of Pesti’s relatives as coats and gloves”. 

I zone out for a moment as I watch a parakeet do some tricks and hear: “Henry in Invercargill has three girls on the go and has just become a dad at 110.” It takes me a moment to realise she is talking about a tuatara. 

This is great – all the New Zealand postcards, key rings and guide book covers I’ve ever seen have come to life in one place. 

After the show I go to watch kiwi feeding time. I’m excited about seeing the New Zealand mascot because I have no idea what they look like in reality. 

We sit in a pitch black room waiting for our eyes to adjust so that we can spot Attar, the nocturnal kiwi. Every time the keeper says ‘kiwi’ I have to remind myself she isn’t talking about human New Zealanders but actual birds. 

When told the birds’ eggs are so large that their laying is equivalent to a woman giving birth to a 15kg baby, it takes me several minutes to recover. 

The whole day is geared towards entertainment but more so, education. This park is one of many captive breeding programmes in New Zealand, relying on admission fees and donations to keep its work going. 

It may not be fast and furious but two days later I’m still hassling everyone at home with my facts about tuatara.