Fairy in the kitchen

A fairy prion resting on our kitchen bench

There are probably not many who can claim to have had a fairy in the kitchen, but we can. We came home after work today to find an unexpected visitor: a small grey bird with webbed feet huddled in the backyard. Our border collie had been considerately keeping it company. We brought the little chap inside out of the weather into a towel-lined box, an arrangement he seemed perfectly happy with.

After an hour trawling the internet we identified it as a fairy prion (Pachyptila turtur), found throughout ocean and coastal areas in the Southern Hemisphere (an excellent website for identifying unknown birds is http://nzbirdsonline.org.nz) We are some kilometres from the sea, but it has been quite stormy and it must have been blown in from the sea on strong winds.

Joe Cockram
Fairy prion in flight. Photo by Joe Cockram

It is a very placid creature, and seems quite contended tucking its head in its wing and sleeping, even amidst the ruckus of clamouring toddlers, TV and other noise of a busy household. It shows no fear of either humans or border collies, probably because it wouldn’t generally encounter either of them in its natural oceanic island habitat. This clearly illustrates how vulnerable New Zealand’s birds and animals (such as seals) would have been when humans and mammalian predators first arrived on these shores.

Apparently its diet consists mainly of planktonic crustaceans and other tiny sea animals, which it feeds on at night from the water’s surface. This poses a slight challenge as we don’t have much in the way of planktonic crustaceans in our pantry. Never mind – we intend to release the little fellow back out on the beach tonight and hope he finds his way back home, now that the weather has settled.

Epilogue: our visitor was taken down to the beach, just south of the Waikanae estuary that evening. For the trip there, he sat quite happily on an old towel in the passenger’s seat of our people-mover, and perched on my husband’s arm as they made their way over the dunes to the beach. Once this little fellow felt the sea breeze in his feathers, he stretched out his wings, and off he flew, at what my husband described at “lightening” speed. Safe travels, little guy!

7 thoughts on “Fairy in the kitchen

  1. paulknight35 August 11, 2014 / 11:16 pm

    Wow! Beautiful story. Beautiful!

  2. tessawhiteman August 12, 2014 / 6:44 pm

    Amazing! What a clever little fairy to choose YOUR backyard to shelter in. I hope it made its way safely to familiar, watery territory.

  3. Carringtonia August 16, 2014 / 12:54 am

    This is so lovely. I remember walking along the beach at Makara a few years back seeing dozens of dead fairy prions, blown off course by a winter storm. So pleased this one had a happy ending.

    • envirohistorynz August 16, 2014 / 7:37 am

      Thank you for the comment Carringtonia. Yes, this one seemed to be exhausted rather than injured in any way, and seemed none the worse for his “detour”. I had never seen a fairy prion before – it was quite a humbling experience encountering a creature that showed no fear of humans.

  4. tessawhiteman August 18, 2014 / 3:14 pm

    Oh, It is so good to hear that this adventurous little creature flew away of his own accord. It has made my day!

  5. Tess January 28, 2016 / 8:44 pm

    Hi Catherine,

    My name is Tess I currently have a Fairy Prion in care and with the help of some wildlife experts we are trying to identify if he has any physical injuries. As no one has seen one on land before it is hard for us to tell. He is not walking too well, using his beak for balance. I was wondering if you can remember how your visitor walked and if he was quite able on land? Thanks in advance!

    • envirohistorynz January 30, 2016 / 6:14 am

      Hi Tess, Thank you for your question. As I recall, he didn’t do much walking. He seemed very content to just sit and sleep for most of his stay with us. But when he did walk, he seemed fine (he certainly didn’t use his beak for balance). I definitely think that these birds a designed for flying than walking, and so even when in full health, I suspect they probably look a bit awkward when walking. Perhaps you could try some Youtube videos of fairy prions walking? that might help?
      All the best. I hope your charge recovers. They are charming little birds.

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