Mystery illness striking down native gulls on Waiheke


    At least eight red-billed gulls have been struck down by a mystery illness on Waiheke over the past few days.

    Native Bird Rescue general manager Karen Saunders says five gulls were found clearly sick on Surfdale Beach this Monday. “They were all convulsing madly, and our vet advised euthanasia,” she says. “There was already one dead because a dog had got at it.” The other four were humanely killed to spare them further suffering. 

    Although the native red-billed gull  is still reasonably numerous, their population is dropping at an alarming rate so the Department of Conservation considers them an at risk, ‘nationally vulnerable’ species. Between 1983 and 2005 the red-billed gull population declined by 51 percent. 

    Another two gulls at Surfdale Beach had their shoulders ripped out in suspected dog attacks. Karen says it is believed these birds were also affected by whatever had made the other birds sick, since dogs rarely catch gulls that aren’t already injured or ill.

    At first, Native Bird Rescue believed the gulls might have been exposed to a sedative used as a poison to control pest species of birds such as mynas and sparrows – which has similar effects to the gulls’ symptoms. However, they no longer suspect that after another three gulls fell sick on Tuesday. Karen says two of these birds drowned before they could be rescued, and the third also had to be put-down. • Paul Mitchell

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