Interview series: Working with birds -  Marleen Verhoeven

Interview series: Working with birds - Marleen Verhoeven

Tune in, because every month we are going to be interviewing bird rehabilitators from all over New Zealand!

This week, the multi-talented psychologist and bird rehabilitator Marleen Verhoeven from Hunua Bird Life 


- First off, the most important question... What's your favourite NZ native bird?

This without a doubt is the kereru, the large-seed eating spreader of tree diversity in our native bush. Unlike parrots I would not view them as an intelligent bird, however the more I observe them the more I appreciate the nuances of their behaviour. 

kereru by Jemma

Illustration by Jemma McLean

- Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you have done?

My partner Willow and I were born in the Netherlands. We lived close to a protected swamp reserve, de Peel. At de Peel and traveling around Europe we learnt to appreciate the uniqueness and vulnerability of what mother nature provides. When we came to NZ some 30 years ago we discovered NZ on foot, and fell in love with Papatūānuku and her creatures.  We settled in Hunua to live close to the Hunua Ranges, a bush reserve south east of Auckland. Conservation has remained a large theme in our lives. Willow works as a volunteer and contractor for Auckland Council in the Ranges. He works on pest control, kokako management, and prevention of kauri dieback disease, amongst others. Both our daughters also work in conservation, in South Auckland and in Dunedin. I am a clinical psychologist and have worked in mental health for 30 years, including in leadership. Willow was kind enough to build two large aviaries so I could take care of budgies, diamond doves and Chinese button quails. The birds offered me a sanctuary away from work. After some years two ferrets took out most of the birds (their last supper, thanks to the resident trapper), and the aviaries stood empty for some time. In 2016 I contacted Bird Rescue in Green Bay, and offered the use of the aviaries. Over the years I have continued to soft-release kereru, ruru, tui, starlings, blackbirds and thrushes, amongst others. Living so close to the bush it was a natural decision to focus on bush and land animals, even though we also live close to Miranda. Bird Rescue, now Bird Care Aotearoa, encouraged me to apply for a DOC permit. I did so in November 2019 and the permit to look after land animals was granted in May 2021, following a supportive visit by Olivia Keane, DOC and Janelle Ward. Since this time we have looked after 8 birds. We started with 4 euthanasias, which was disheartening, however currently have a ruru, a silvereye and a young kereru in the aviaries and one silvereye has already been released. I am supported by a local veterinary nurse and a veterinarian, and experienced wildlife experts at Bird Care Aotearoa and elsewhere. The facebook page “Hunua Bird Life” has been a great communication tool to build a bird loving community.


- What inspired you to pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation?

In my experience all wildlife experts differ somewhat in their values, and it has been helpful to reflect on mine. I think what drives me is a conservation philosophy in combination with my love for birds. Kereru and other native bird species are essential in the protection of our unique and diverse bush, and deserve all the help they can get. My career in psychology can be emotionally draining, and caring for birds gives me joy.


Marleen Verhoeven kereru

Photo: Marleen Verhoeven feeding some soft release Kererū

- What is the most rewarding part of the work for you? 

 Observing and learning about birds and their unique habits. Handling them and learning about health care. Opening the aviary and letting them go. My two “pet” kereru who decided to keep me a part of their lives, in spite of all my attempts to set them free.

- Hardest thing you have had to do or learn?

I thought I would be okay about euthanasia, I was rationally well prepared, however the first bird euthanasia went straight to the bottom of my stomach and that sinking feeling sat there for awhile.- If you were to go back and tell your past self something, what would it be?


Marleen Verhoeven and ruru

Photo: Marleen Verhoeven caring for a Ruru/Morepork

- If you were to go back and tell your past self something, what would it be?

If you are stressed, get some birds. It works for me, but not a recommendation I commonly make to my psychology clients :)


- What are some of the misconceptions/challenges that face this industry?

The ongoing running costs are relatively significant, and I currently am largely self funded. I suspect that locals see it as a hobby. It is, and they understand it is valuable work, but it is also expensive. I think the misconception is that I am funded by external sources, however I rely on donations and meet the difference out of my own pocket. I will be at a market later this year with a fundraising stall to raise awareness. 


Marleen Verhoeven and a kereru

Photo: Marleen Verhoeven and one of her soft release Kererū

- Would you like to add anything else?

I really enjoy being part of the community of wildlife experts, you all have so much to contribute. Thank you for sharing your knowledge!

Nga mihi nui, Marleen


If you are interested in being interviewed for our monthly bird rehabilitation segment, feel free to get in touch


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