Ohaupo’s extraordinary ‘bird woman’

Judy Fentress and ‘Mrs P’ in the food store at her rescue centre. 

Thirty-one years ago, Judy Fentress’s Ōhaupō neighbour brought her a duck egg he suggested she pop under a desk lamp.

Twenty-eight days later, when the egg began making strange noises, she called her farming neighbour.  “His wife came over and the two of us sat on the floor with the desk lamp and a bottle of wine and hatched a baby.”

That tiny duckling launched Judy’s long devotional to birds.  Her growing curiosity took her to the Ōtorohanga Kiwi House, where she was treasurer for 15 years and earned herself an honorary life membership.  She set up Judy’s Bird Nursery, taking in sick and injured birds and becoming one of very few DOC-registered native bird rescuers in the Waikato. At full tilt she looks after hundreds of birds in 21 aviaries built to exacting DOC requirements, and hatches up to 20,000 a year in the five controlled incubators spread across the rural property she shares with husband Dave.   Her DOC commitment includes keeping records on where each native bird came from and where it is released.

The set-up includes a clinic area, food store and shed, and Judy houses disabled and injured birds, and ‘bird-sits’ others while their owners are away.

A symbiotic relationship with Fish & Game NZ sees her incubate and hatch mallard and grey teal duck eggs, then hand-feed them for two weeks before returning them to Fish & Game who raise them to adulthood before releasing them.  In return, Fish & Game provide food for any fish-eating birds she may be caring for.

A delighted Judy welcomes another chick, just hours old. 

Her lengthy co-operation with the Ōtorohanga Kiwi House is boosted with the relationship she shares with local veterinarians.  She gets advice and assistance from those quarters, but runs the operation almost entirely single-handedly.  The venture is self-funded and Judy, now in her 70s, is heavily reliant on donations.  It’s a tough 24/7 schedule she is determined to keep going.

“I am amazed at how many unique birds there are living in New Zealand, found nowhere else in the world.  I want to do whatever I can to protect them for as long as I can.”

She and Dave are a high-energy couple who balance the birds with other forms of occupation.

They grew up on neighbouring farms in Colorado.  Dave went into systems-related information and technology and Judy into finance.  They worked in Zurich for 20 years, and even there Judy tapped into her ‘rescue gene’ by running a hedgehog rescue centre. They came to New Zealand in 1991 and both still work in Eagle Computer Support, a company they started in 1995 with Judy offering accounting packages and Dave handling the technical support side.

On top of all that, she still finds time for her non-avian hobby, 3D photography; she is secretary/treasurer of The Stereoscopic Society of NZ.

Some of the Chinese pheasants Judy breeds to help fund her operation. 

A tour of the aviaries reveals Judy’s intimate knowledge of each bird.  Escorted all the time by a rescue turned ‘security guard’, a protective paradise duck called Mrs P, she relates each one’s story.  Judy also breeds exotic and show birds to help raise funds and keeps on site a vast array of foods suited to each type of bird.

Earlier this month, Judy released Morley the rescued morepork during the ‘Project Ruru’ weekend at Tauwhare’s Sculpture Park.  She also hatched and raised ‘Pookster’ the pukeko which starred in one of the award-winning Genesis TV commercials, trained for the role by animal trainer Mark Vette.

Rescue birds are dropped at Judy’s almost daily.  All she asks is for people to ring ahead, on 07 823 6942.

Morley the morepork rescue photographed about a week before his release at Tauwhare’s Sculpture Park.  

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