FLYING TIME: Australian Seabird Rescue acting general manager Keith Williams has to use gentle persuasion to encourage Albert, the northern giant petrel, to exercise.
FLYING TIME: Australian Seabird Rescue acting general manager Keith Williams has to use gentle persuasion to encourage Albert, the northern giant petrel, to exercise. Cathy Adams/Northern Star

Albert likes his feet on the ground

ALBERT is a big, dark grey bird that doesn’t want to go home.

Despite the best efforts of acting general manager Keith Williams and his team at Australian Seabird Rescue in Ballina, the northern giant petrel remains firmly and stubbornly on the ground, reluctant to even stretch his wings.

Albert is on a strict exercise regimen. Three times a day Mr Williams has to coax him to move about and spread his wings to prepare him for life back in the wild.

Like any trainer, Mr Williams has help. Charlie the galah squawks support as Albert waddles around the garden with his oversize flipper feet in a Chaplinesque walk.

Seven weeks ago a member of the public phoned the rescue centre reporting a big, grey bird at Flat Rock Beach.

Albert was exhausted and had pneumonia.

“He must have got tumbled in a storm,” Mr Williams said.

Petrels live out at sea and even sleep while they are flying. They eat mainly squid and think nothing of feasting on an albatross, Mr Williams said. It’s hard to imagine Albert doing that.

At 18 months old he is 4kg with a 2.4m wingspan. He doesn’t have the adult white plumage on his head yet and his desire to stay sitting rather than fly is not a good sign.

An attempt to release Albert from the cliffs at Skennars Head failed when he was reported back at Flat Rock the next day.

A few weeks later another release resulted in yet another phone call reporting a big, grey bird on the beach.

This time Albert had made it as far as Evans Head and resident Ken Miles found him on Airforce Beach.

“The bird wasn’t scared of me at all. It was pretty domesticated. It obviously likes being in human care,” he said.

Even though Albert appears to want the company of humans, he has to go back, Mr Williams said.

“He’s a real character, but being in care is a problem. He has lost his fitness as a sea bird,” he said.

The team ‘chase’ Albert three times a day in the ‘petrel gym’.

There is a determined push to get Albert back in the wild as soon as possible to increase his chances of surviving.

“There is a blunt end to this,” Mr Williams said. “At least half the animals we rescue don’t make it.”

Give your support to help birds like Albert. Book a ticket for the Lance Ferris Memorial Dinner on December 12 at the Ballina RSL Club.



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