Apex predators to have custom-built $50K recovery aviary
Birds of prey injured and treated on the Northern Rivers will have a custom-built aviary to recover before they are released back into nature.
Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital received a grant of $50,000 from the Foundation for National Parks and Wildlife to build the structure and save wildlife.
Founder vet Stephen Van Mill said the free flight aviary will be located on land owned by the proprietors of Sea Peace, a subtropical forest on 368 acres of regenerated land in Ewingsdale.
"The facility will treat birds of prey, raptors - wedge-tailed eagles, hawks, owls and falcons," he said.
"These are the apex predators of our ecosystem, and if they disappear, the ecosystem collapses. You can't just replace them. They cover vast areas and they are much needed.
"When they are injured, us vets can nurse them back to health, with support from carers and the rehabilitation process, but a bird of prey needs to prove it has the ability to fly and hunt as per normal, and that can take a few months."
Dr Van Mill said the facility was needed because birds were the most injured type of animal the the wildlife hospital sees, and also because of their importance in the ecosystem.
"Birds are the predominant specials treated in wildlife hospitals in Australia, we see more birds than mammals or reptiles," he said.
"Wedge-tailed eagles' wingspan is 2.3m, so you need a big facility to treat them."
Dr Van Mill said up until now, some birds had to travel 10 hours to the Higher Ground Raptors Centre in the Southern Highlands.
The Byron Bay vets met Peggy McDonald, who owns the facility, and who shared with them best practices and expert knowledge on caring for raptors, and particularly the best design for the aviary.
"It's a round structure, approximately 40m across in the base, and that allows the birds to round in circles and fly a 100m flight in one lap," Dr Van Mill said.
"It's all covered in a mesh that is safe for the birds, keeps snakes and other animals out and offers enough ventilation and visibility.
"We are really lucky to be learning so much from Higher Ground so we can build the perfect facility to start with."
The structure is expected to be built and operational by May 2021.
The Byron Bay Wildlife Hospital opened in November.