You might have seen gannets, those beautiful big white birds that dive for fish.
Well my wife Lois and I were wandering on Omaha Beach, which is near to Warkworth, just after a big storm. We came across a gannet that could not fly. It had one wing that drooped low almost to the ground. We went back to the car took out a rug and used this to throw over the bird so that we could take it home and have it checked by the vet. The vet told us the bird had injured tendons in the wing and it would be some time before it would be able to fly. Our bird was a juvenile gannet as it had a speckled plumage. We learned that the gannets leave New Zealand for 3 to 4 years. They fly to Australia where they mature and then return to New Zealand to mate and nest. By this time they have their beautiful adult plumage As the bird needed to be fed fish several times a day we made a cage for it and took it to school with us. The children thought the bird was great.
Unfortunately the young bird never learned to pick up the small fish that were its food. It needed 6 or 8 sprats each day. So to feed the gannet we had to hold open its beak and put in a fish. Sounds easy. Well it wasn’t. The gannet had a very strong neck and could turn toward you quickly and snap with its beak. The beak is large and powerful and at the tip it has a point. The point was no problem. At the hinge end of the beak there are a number of tooth like serrations with which a gannet can easily hold a fish it has caught. Further forward on the beak toward the tip both the top and bottom beak have a razor sharp edge. The beak at this point is like a very sharp pair of scissors So we to be very careful for if the bird snapped its beak shut on your finger it peeled skin off the side. I had a huge number of cuts that were caused by the gannet.
At school the bird would be placed on a table and I would quickly grab it behind the head. The grip needed to be strong to prevent the bird turning and seizing my hand. With my other hand I then caught hold of the beak. I could then let goof the neck and with my two hands open the beak wide enough so that a sprat could be pushed down and into its throat. The children liked doing this. The bird became very tame and enjoyed waddling around between the desks. I say waddling because it had wide feet that overlapped each other. These feet were designed to give it a big push when it wanted to take off and fly when on water. On land the bird had to lean from one side to the other to remove the foot that was under the other one. Each time it took a step it placed one foot directly on top of the other ,not in front as you and I would do.
For several weeks we kept the sore wing held up in its correct position by placing tape right around the bird’s body. Every few days we would take the bird to the beach so that it could paddle around in the water. It ducked and dived and preened itself
Then one night when we were giving the bird a swim at Algies Bay some other gannets flew overhead and began fishing near by. Our gannet saw them paddled strongly with its big feet and began flying. We could hardly believe our eyes as it joined up with the other birds.