Tune in, because every month we are going to be interviewing bird rehabilitators from all over New Zealand!
This week I'm excited to be interviewing my fellow bird nerd and good friend Nyssa Skorji.
- First off, the most important question... What's your favourite NZ native bird?
Oh straight off the bat with a hard one, how can I choose between my feathered children? I suppose if I must just pick one it would have to be my clumsy spirit animal the Kereru aka the New Zealand wood pigeon. Always looking spiffy in their white overalls and shiny bibs, making a big ol mess of any garden berries with absolutely no stealth, I’ve never related to a bird more!
Illustration by Jemma McLean
- Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you have done?
In truth I’m not a vet nor do I have a medical or science background. As a child, I wanted to be a palaeontologist, forever rolling around in the mud, collecting bugs and getting in all sorts of mischief. So I imagine it was a surprise for my family and peers when I embarked on a BA of Design. This lead to opportunities overseas and I soon found myself in San Francisco, California. As luck would have it the top floor apartment we rented was the only one on the street without anti-bird spikes and netting covering its architraves. Returning from work one evening my husband presented me with a strange little creature he’d found squeaking at the bottom of the stairs. I’d never seen anything like it. I think this little guy needs your help he says, and so it began. Turns out it was a squab we called Klaus who’d suffered developmental issues due to its nest receiving no natural sunlight. And with that I was hooked, I soon noticed the flocks of pigeons, the blue jays and phoebes at the park, the finches at work. Bird kind was everywhere! So naturally, when we moved to New Zealand land of the birds I knew I had to keep helping them however I could so without any formal experience just a passion for learning and caregiving I reached out and started volunteering at our local bird rescue.
Photo: Nyssa with her a couple of her rescued birds
- What inspired you to pursue a career in wildlife rehabilitation?
I’ve got the lifelong learners bug for sure. And the thing about birdcare is the more you learn the more you realise how much you don’t know. There’s always something new to learn from everyone you meet and every case you see. No two days are ever the same and no two people rehabilitate the same. So if you love being forever a student like me, give birdcare a go you’ll never get bored!
- What is the most rewarding part of the work for you?
Releases and rehomings! I love watching a bird you’ve had in your care regain their strength and live the full life you’d envisioned for them. It’s truly amazing what birds can recover from if given the chance and just how adaptive they can be when overcoming disability. I’ve seen birds I was certain wouldn’t make it through the night go on to prove me very wrong by making a full recovery. When that weak sick bird you’ve been caring for finally regains their spark and starts up the cooing, crowing, tweeting and screaming. Even a good bite is a sign of fight in a bird and even though it may well hurt it makes you feel rather proud of them.
Photo: Nyssa working to remove string from entangled pigeon.
- Hardest thing you have had to do or learn?
Ethics and what it truly means to follow them. I think when I first started in this field I was naively guided by the notion of a black and white system. Bird is injured - I help the bird. Seemed pretty straightforward and to be honest most people you speak to out of the industry about bird care still believe things to be that simple. But unfortunately, the reality is so much more nuanced and circumstantial. What is true for one individual won’t be the same for another of the exact same species. Age, condition, temperament, learned diet and the list goes on and on, will all change the outcome of individual cases. Often it’s not enough to simply keep them alive, one must consider the life they’ll lead afterwards. Will they have independence, the ability to eat by themselves and act on natural behaviours like nest building and courtship rituals? If the answer is no to any of these things we must always seriously consider euthanisation. For people who are primarily caregivers, this is often an aspect of the job we struggle with, I know I still do. But ultimately I try to put myself in their position and how I wish I’d be treated and saved from an unjust fate.
- If you were to go back and tell your past self something, what would it be?
If you don’t look after yourself you can’t look after your patients. Seem rather obvious but it’s a hard one to remember on the day today. This includes taking time off, having a social life, knowing when to call it a night or say no to more patients when you’re at capacity. Burnout is a serious issue amongst carers so reach out to your fellow rehabbers and let them know it’s ok to be human. No one person can do it all. And trust me we don’t just need help with the hands-on things either. We need that savvy social media gurus and the volunteer transport teams, the seawater deliveries, fresh fish and live insects growers. It truly takes a village to give bird kind the love and respect they deserve.
Photo: Nyssa helping a pigeon in need
- What are some of the misconceptions/challenges that face this industry?
That it's all cute and cuddly. Oh, how I wish. I think our industry has a way of presenting itself to the public through social media and the press which can lead to some general misconceptions. We’re not all standing around in fresh clean threads cuddling birds, even though most press shots would have you believing otherwise.
Birdcare is messy work, birds don’t care for our human sensibilities, neat hospital cages and clean water containers oh no, birds are chaos, beautiful chaos. Messy eaters doesn’t even begin to cover it. Between the fish slurry, defrosted mice, live insects and fruit pulp you’ll find yourself taking multiple showers every day and appearance standards dropping, if it’s clean it’ll do in my household now. I also can’t count the number of times I’ve pondered how on earth did they manage to poop on that? But while it might be messy it’s extremely rewarding work, and I wouldn’t have it any other way!
- Would you like to add anything else?
Birdcare is for everyone, you don’t need to be a vet or ornithologist to become a bird nerd, anyone can call up their local rescue and start learning through volunteer work and initiative.
If you are interested in being interviewed for our monthly bird rehabilitation segment, feel free to get in touch firstname.lastname@example.org