'Now is an emergency time': Fires bring more challenges for wildlife carer

University of Sydney postgraduate students Elle Burton-Bradley, Anthony Chow, Dylana Caporale and Jessie Liu Sun with Higher Ground Raptors founder Peggy McDonald.
University of Sydney postgraduate students Elle Burton-Bradley, Anthony Chow, Dylana Caporale and Jessie Liu Sun with Higher Ground Raptors founder Peggy McDonald.

A sense of stillness is the first thing you notice when you arrive at the Higher Ground Raptors centre.

However the pace inside founder Peggy McDonald's Fitzroy Falls home, located at the facility, was a different story on Wednesday morning.

The carer had a full schedule as she prepared for the arrival of four postgraduate veterinary students, in between a cup of tea and a load of washing.

In the background, phone and email inquiries piled in.

The latest email in Peggy's inbox contained a photo of a powerful owl, which looked severely injured. "It could've been hit by a car," she said.

As an expert in her field, Peggy has been the go-to person for bird questions since the bushfires ravaged parts of the Southern Highlands.

She said the fires could threaten several species of birds, some of which have been classified as rare and endangered breeds.

"We're really lucky we have, hopefully still, a nice little population of gang-gang cockatoos," she said.

"Now is just an emergency time. In the next few weeks people will be able to get out there and see what damage has been done, and what hollows have been lost.

"We can really assess how long it's going to take for things to regenerate."

Peggy said she was concerned about the wellbeing of birds in the next month.

"In the coming weeks starving birds will come in," she said.

"People tend to think birds can just fly away, but they're still flying away with [fire] damage so their flight won't be sustainable.

"They've lost their territories and their nesting hollows. Eagles will nest for generations in the same tree."

Peggy suggested residents could help small and large birds by putting out crushed-up, raw almonds and cool, fresh water in their backyards.

For carnivorous birds she suggested cut-up, good quality steak.

The carer said she would readjust her care methods in response to an increase in temperatures.

"There's no denying our temperatures are rising," she said.

"It used to be in the high 20s [in Fitzroy Falls] and we'd say 'it's so hot'. Now it's in the high 30s.

"As carers we need to start readjusting to that. One way I'm going to do that is by providing cooling stations."

The phone rings mid-morning. Peggy excuses herself from the postgraduate students. "It might be a rescue," she said.

She was right. An injured Australian Boobook owl would be transported from Crookwell to the centre that afternoon.

University of Sydney postgraduate veterinary pre-clinical placement student Elle Burton-Bradley has watched Peggy at work for the past week.

"Peg does a great job. She has a way with the birds, she knows each individual bird type and what they need," she said.

Peggy returned to the postgraduate students and briefed them on their tasks for the afternoon.

While the future of some bird populations is uncertain, Peggy holds hope for her feathered friends' custodians.

Visit www.highergroundraptors.com/donate to support the Higher Ground Raptor Centre.

Head to www.environment.nsw.gov.au for information about helping wildlife in emergencies.

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This story 'Now is an emergency time': Fires bring more challenges for wildlife carer first appeared on Southern Highland News.