Meet the bird lady of Torbay

KATHERINE MOUNTAINAlbany Advertiser

If walls could talk, the chicken wire lining wildlife rehabilitator Carol Biddulph’s aviary would squawk with tales.

From Fiordland penguins lost far from home to injured pelicans, Mrs Biddulph has helped rehabilitate hundreds of seabirds at her Torbay property in her role with the Great Southern offshoot of WA Seabird Rescue.

She simply loves birds of all shapes, sizes and species.

Mrs Biddulph, a registered wildlife rehabilitator, helped set up the local branch of WA Seabird Rescue in 2006 with fellow wildlife carer Sue Gleave.

Back then, Mrs Biddulph had a passion for wildlife rehabilitation but a limited knowledge of how to help birds, until the founder of Australia Seabird Rescue group Lance Ferris visited WA to teach people how to help injured seabirds.

Within weeks of completing the course, rather than waiting for birds to come to her, Mrs Biddulph threw herself in the deep end.

Armed with a homemade wildlife first aid tackle-box, she started scoping the action at jetties around Albany, looking for pelicans on the wrong end of recreational fishers’ lines that were entangled in fishing line and stuck with hooks.

On her first expedition, Mrs Biddulph stumbled across a pelican with hooks latched onto its head and legs – and with the help of a passerby, caught the pelican and removed the hooks.

It was a high she hasn’t been able to get enough of since.

“It was the most amazing feeling,” she said.

“There was this crazy 40-year-old women jumping around and cheering on the jetty because it was just so wonderful.”

Six years on, along with five other volunteer carers, Mrs Biddulph oversees a steady stream of injured pelicans, which spend weeks in rehabilitation at her property.

A former budgie aviary has found new life as a pelican aviary, and a South Coast Natural Resource Management grant allowed the construction of a penguin enclosure, which is used by migratory birds, little penguins, Fiordland penguins and even rockhopper penguins which drop in on the South Coast from time to time.

“We get all sorts… some are injured, some are abandoned, some are lost,” she said.

“A couple of years ago we had a south polar skua, and that comes all the way from Antarctica, that was only the second one ever found in WA.

“I had a call from a guy a couple of weeks ago, he had a pelican in his paddock and he was in Pingelly.”

At the moment, Mrs Biddulph is caring for a dozen ducklings along with a pelican, a repeat offender dubbed Mr Grumpy, now in his fifth stint in rehabilitation since May after suffering recurring injuries caused by errant fish hooks and line.

“He is very naughty and very expensive, we had spent over $1000 on operations for this one bird,” she said.

“He just seems to love annoying fishermen and getting their fish, he just constantly gets hooked, getting entangled, and this time he has a big gash under his leg.”

Pelican entanglement is an ongoing issue in Albany, leading the group to investigate funding for educational signage at fishing spots around the city urging people not to feed seabirds and what to do if they do snag a bird.

“In Albany we have our pelicans. We are so fortunate to be only one of four places in WA that they breed,” Mrs Biddulph said.

“They are quite an icon as much as the whales, everyone loves going to Emu Point and seeing the pelicans but there is that conflict with recreational fishing and pelicans do get in the way, so we encourage people to not feed the birds.

“People say ‘why are you looking after pelicans’.

“I think well if we don’t, maybe in 50 years time there won’t be many pelicans left, and someone will say ‘why didn’t anyone look after these pelicans’.

“We have to look after them because one day they might not be there for us to love.”

Being a volunteer organisation, the group relies on grants and funding to do their work and pay for veterinary costs where necessary.

Mrs Biddulph is enormously grateful to her major supporters, including Albany Port Authority, Westerberg Baits, local veterinarians and South Coast NRM, which have enabled the group to pay for veterinary fees, food supplies and building new enclosures.

Despite the volunteer role requiring work far outside the regular 9-5 office hours, she wouldn’t have it any other way.

“It’s a labour of love, if you can get something out of pain and watch a bird fly away, it’s absolutely worth it or see little penguins darting in the water, it gives you just such a wonderful feeling,” she said.

To contact WA Seabird Rescue, phone 0418 952 683.

katherine.mountain@albanyadvertiser.com

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