Sunshine Coast Birds

Birding and other wildlife experiences from the Sunshine Coast and elsewhere in Australia - and from overseas - with scribblings about travel, environmental issues, kayaking, hiking and camping.

Saturday, 26 May 2018

Twinnies turn the tables for thousands of doomed waterbirds

Paula & Bridgette Powers with Wedge-tailed Shearwaters
Paula and Bridgette Powers gaze affectionately at a Striated Heron perched statue-like in its aviary. “We got it when it was this big,” the identical twin sisters chorus together, word for word. They simultaneously signal with their fingers that the heron was a tiny ball of puff when brought to them at Twinnies Pelican and Seabird Rescue, a rehabilitation centre for waterbirds they have run for the past 18 years at Landsborough on Queensland's Sunshine Coast. After four months of tender care, the heron is due to be released soon, back into the wilds from which it came.

The so-called twinnies have had their share of the limelight. A YouTube clip of the pair in 2015 went viral, attracting three million views. They've featured regularly in the national media. The siblings dress identically every day and do everything together. The 44-year-olds have always shared a bedroom. The first time they were separated was when Paula had her appendix out as a 16-year-old; Bridgette had her appendix out three weeks later. They've scarcely been apart since. When their parents, Helen and John, organised a meeting with identical twin boys in the hope of sparking twin romances, the sisters weren't interested. They couldn't bear the thought of sleeping in separate bedrooms. “We give our love to the wildlife,” they say.

Twinnies & friends
The capacity of the siblings to speak and act in unison is mesmerising, until you get the hang of it. When they talk, it's impossible to know who says what. They either say the same thing at precisely the same time, even a full sentence, or their thoughts are so in tune that it doesn't matter who says what, because one finishes the other's comment. Paula and Bridgette share 100 per cent of their DNA. If you phone the twins and ask if you're speaking to Paula or Bridgette, you will be told: “Yes.” In a study of more than 420 twins at Sydney's Royal North Shore Hospital, they were considered the most identical pair.

It's the twinnies' passion for native birds that brings me to their Landsborough rescue centre. Countless thousands of waterbirds of many species owe their lives to the tireless devotion of these women and their parents. “We've loved wild animals since we were this high,” they say together, each holding a hand at knee height. “Our doctor says it's in our genes… We would rescue snails from our grandmother when we were little.”

During my visit, hundreds of birds of many species are in residence. The reasons for them being there are many. Chicks fall out of nests, or the parents of nestlings are killed by cars, cats or dogs. Birds are afflicted by botulism when chemicals and other pollutants wash into waterways. Some are tangled in fishing line. Starving seabirds wash up on beaches; several Wedge-tailed Shearwaters and a Flesh-footed Shearwater were brought in over the week before my visit.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater & Flesh-footed Shearwater at the centre
Birds are injured or orphaned by land-clearing operations which are increasingly rampant on the Sunshine Coast. A recently hatched clutch of Pacific Black Ducks is in care after their nesting tree was bulldozed for the Bruce Highway roadworks a short distance away. The twinnies work closely with the RSPCA and others including Australia Zoo, just down the road along Steve Irwin Way. The late Steve Irwin was so impressed with the twins' enthusiasm that he hired them to work at the zoo for a couple of years before they set their rehabilitation centre up in 2000.

Paula and Bridgette keep the birds for as long as necessary to ensure their recovery. “Other places treat a bird with botulism for four days or so then it gets enthanased,” they say. “We keep them for 8 or 10 weeks or however long it takes.” They claim a 99 per cent success rate in treating botulism. The twinnies turn nothing away. They readily admit to becoming emotionally attached to their charges: “We like to give everything a go... We hate it when we lose something.” They think nothing of waking at all hours if their charges need special attention.

Forest destruction is rampant around the Sunshine Coast
As the population of Australia's tenth largest city continues to explode, the number of birds being brought to the Twinnies centre is ever rising, and with them the cost of care and rehabilitation. Fish alone to feed the birds costs $500 a week. The twinnies' mum, Helen, says it costs $70,000 a year to run the centre. It gets $10,000 a year from the Sunshine Coast Council. The rest is paid from the family's pensions and public donations. “If somebody leaves us a $50 note we're thrilled because it means we have that little bit extra to get something,” Helen says.

The 1.8-hectare property includes a lagoon which attracts large numbers of wild birds. Many are so tame they wander around the grounds unperturbed by people. A pair of wild Australian Pelicans nests annually on the dam - a highly unusual event because these birds usually travel hundreds of kilometres to nest during periodic flooding events inland.

A wild Great Egret at the centre
The property costs $500 a week to rent and the lease expires later this year. Although they hope to renew it for five years, the future for the rescue centre is uncertain with the unrelenting pressure on family finances. The twinnies want one of the big Sunshine Coast real estate development companies like Stockland to purchase the property, which has a $500,000 price tag, with the family being allowed to live there while it functions as a wildlife rescue centre. The family would continue to pay rates and other costs with the company retaining title. “Maybe a big company like Stockland can lend a hand by doing something that's really useful for wildlife instead of just being interested in land development,” Helen says. The centre was given a $5,000 community grant last year from Stockland's huge Aura residential development at nearby Caloundra South. 

Stockland declined to respond to the suggestion that the company acquire the property but says the family can apply for further community grants, a spokesperson adding: “The Stockland Aura Community Grants Program is issued every two years and groups can apply for funding for amounts up to $50,000. The next grant is scheduled to be available mid-2019 and we encourage local groups to apply for funding through this program.” Readers might want to express a view to Stockland that more could be done to help the centre by emailing the company: geninfo@stockland.com.au.

Feeding time for a young Australasian Darter
Helen Powers says the work being done at Twinnies can not be duplicated: “Nobody wants to look after waterbirds. If it's cute and furry, it'll get looked after. Or a Wedge-tailed Eagle might get a look in. But not seabirds.”   Twinnies Pelican and Seabird Rescue is open to the public and well worth a look. Donations and voluntary help are welcome.

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