The Te Anau Bird Sanctuary is set on the shores of Lake Te Anau and is an easy 15-minute walk from the Fiordland National Park Visitor Centre. What makes the sanctuary quite special is that during the daily feeding time (9.30am in summer and 10.30am during winter) you have the chance to step inside the enclosure and experience these magnificent birds without a netting fence between you and them. One other aspect that sets the sanctuary apart from so many other ‘birdy’ attractions is that it is a place you can go to at any time without appointments, bookings or horrendous tour fees. The access is completely public and free (gold coin donation is greatly accepted) which makes it attractive to anyone and everyone. That is very refreshing to my mind.
Other native birds within the sanctuary aviaries and enclosures include kākā, morepork, brown teal (pāteke) and Antipodes Island parakeet, and visitors also have a chance of seeing a variety of wild, free-flying birds such as tūī, bellbird, wood pigeon, fantail and grey warbler.
The site of the bird sanctuary was actually set aside for ‘education and wildlife’ as early as 1908. Originally a trout hatchery, it was transformed into a bird sanctuary in 1973, and today the site is shared with Fish and Game who rear trout for release into fishery lakes for children.
The sanctuary is more than just a place to view some of our endangered birds. Breeding programmes for the takahē and brown teal have been established which enable DOC to release young birds back into the wild. Depending on availability of eggs from year to year, blue ducks (whio) are sometimes also raised at the sanctuary. In the case of the Te Anau takahē, young birds are bred on-site until fledged and then transferred to takahē ‘boot camp’. The takahē centre, 40km from Te Anau, is a complex where young birds bred in captivity are introduced into a very large enclosure with their preferred natural tussock habitat. Here they get to mingle with other young birds from other parts of the country. Adult ‘mentor’ birds are also put in the enclosure to help teach the youngsters the art of finding food on their own, and once able to fend for themselves the birds are released into the wild.
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