The Seabird rescuing network of French Polynesia is a group of volunteers who care for and release grounded and injured seabirds, mostly petrels.

Most of the ‘sauveteurs’ are members of the BirdLife Partner SOP Manu, which coordinates their work, and which has nominated the group as Nature’s Heroes for 2017.

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Written by Nick Langley – 23 janvier 2018


Tahiti Petrel rescue_Just-one-leg_2017(red)@SOP Manu

Tahiti Petrel rescue_Just-one-leg_2017(red) @SOP Manu

A « sauveteur » of the Tahiti network offers us a beautiful Seabird rescue story

« Just-one-leg » or the story of an extraordinary Seabird rescue

On a night of December, 2017, a storm rages on Tahiti.
Late in the morning the next day, Joris, the dog handler of Tahiti Faaa Air Force Base, makes his daily round and sees a dark bird with a paw stuck in the barbed wire that protects the Base.
He approaches to free it, and only then realizes that it is not a pigeon but a noha (Tahitian Petrel), a bird he knows to be protected in French Polynesia.
He frees the bird and finds that its leg is badly injured by the edges of the metal supports.
He brings the bird in his kennel, it seems very weak. He cleans the wound and puts the bird in a box.
He then looks for information on the Internet about who to contact and what to do next.
He finds the SOS Petrels hotline number and calls us. We take an appointment with him and quickly pick up the injured bird near the entrance gate of the military base.

We notice that it is indeed a Tahitian Petrel, an adult in view of the streaks on its beak, we confirm that it is very weak but still alive and decide to bring the bird to the referent of the zone given the seriousness of the situation.
Within half an hour, the bird is presented to the veterinarian of the town who finds that the part of the leg under the wound is already cold and necrotic but that the injury does not seem to suffer from an infection. She decides to amputate the dead part of the leg.

The bird, which we call Just-one-leg (!), is then given some rest and put on a diet the next day while the evolution of the injury is monitored.
The day later, we decide to start feeding the Petrel to help it regain strength.
It even enjoys swimming pool sessions to strengthen its valid paw and help it understand how to balance on the water with two wings and just one paw.
What a joy to note the progress of the bird: the head and the wings are gradually rising, the eyes become  more and more lively and the movements on its paw more and more effective, allowing the noha to get out of the swimming pool alone!

Petrel at a swimming pool session

Injured Petrel at a swimming pool session

A dozen days later, Just-one-leg seems sufficiently recovered and we decide to try to release it. During our training, the specialists insisted that you should not keep a Tahitian Petrel too long because the more time passes, the more the wing muscles weaken.
But the wind is obviously not strong enough; the bird beats its wings but fails to fly.
We head back home for a few more days of rest, during which Just-one-leg continues to progress toward its rehabilitation and becomes « talkative », a nice change on the previous days.
But when, one morning, we find the meal of the day before regurgitated at the back of the artificial burrow (a large cardboard tilted on one side, from which the bird can move freely), we understand that the time has come to give it back its freedom.
The wind being favorable that day, a second release is attempted from a different place.
Just-one-leg flies very well but a sudden gust of wind throws it in a big ironwood nearby! Catastrophe! But this valiant Petrel manages to free itself from the branches by hopping on its valid paw, catches a nicer wind and finds itself on course towards… the mountain! NO!
We are really worried for it but after only a few meters, it turns 180° and goes back towards the sea. The bird, a seasoned adult, has visibly noticed its mistake, and with a flight now assured and regular, it finally takes the direction of the open sea, to freedom. Godspeed, Just-one-leg!

Volunteers of Seabird rescue group live stories like this one on a daily basis. These usually have a happy-end, like the story of Just-one-leg. Sometimes the outcome is sadder… but one thing is certain, none of these birds have been forgotten by their rescuers from the SOS Petrels network.