After three months with wildlife professionals, Jimi might choose to stay in Waiheke or fly further afield to Great Barrier Island. Photos Karen Saunders

An early start on Sunday morning saw Jimi the kākā return to the wild after three months of care by Auckland Zoo staff and Native Bird Rescue volunteers – even if he did take an hour to adjust to his new surroundings.

Karen Saunders of Waiheke Native Bird Rescue opened the door to Jimi’s aviary at 6.30am, allowing him to leave at his own pace in a ‘soft release’ after vet Bryan Gartrell had given him the all clear. An hour later, Jimi – a New Zealand species also known as brown parrot – emerged into the wild.

“We gave him the option of letting himself go when he wanted. We also have it open now in case he wants to come back, so I’m still putting food out for him every day and I’ll continue to do that for a week, while he adjusts from captivity to the wild,” said Karen.

Jimi had been receiving treatment on Waiheke for a month after Native Bird Rescue fundraised $12,000 from community donations and the Waiheke SPCA to custom-build the aviary from a shipping container, so he could be transferred from Auckland Zoo where he’d had surgery on a broken wing.

Before being released, Jimi was fitted with a yellow band – provided by wildlife conservation group Zealandia – that will allow Native Bird Rescue to confirm any sightings following his rehabilitation. After 24 hours, he hadn’t returned to the aviary, which Karen said was a sign he had made a full recovery.

“If anyone sees him out there we’d love to hear. As far as I’m aware, he’s the only one in this whole region, so if he goes to Barrier or anywhere else and that band is spotted, we’ll know it’s him. Rehabilitation is quite rare, so we would just love to hear of any sightings at all,” said Karen.

Following the release, Karen was delighted.

“It’s amazing. That’s what we do. We do the rescue – in this case he was at Auckland Zoo for ten weeks, with surgery and all the rest of it for rehabilitation, but release is just the absolute pinnacle.”

Native Bird Rescue are still seeking donations to recoup the costs of Jimi’s aviary, with anyone who donates in November entered into a prize draw to win former Waiheke-based author Janet Hunt’s book, How to Mend a Kea. More information is available online. • Richard Jones

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