Michelle Bellizzi has gone from volunteering as a bird rehabilitator to running a wildlife centre in one of the biggest cities in the United States.
Now she is in Tauranga, as part of a team from International Bird Rescue helping out at the Oiled Wildlife Facility that was set up in response to the Rena oil spill.
The six United States-based specialists have joined the Massey University-led wildlife response that is currently caring for more than 370 oiled birds.
Ms Bellizzi manages the San Francisco Bay Wildlife centre, which leads bird rescues of aquatic birds. “I started by volunteering about 12 years ago and slowly the birds took over my life,” she says. “I became a permanent staff member and am now the manager. It’s become an obsession.”
She says the response in Tauranga has been fantastic. “The level of preparedness is really quite amazing, the centre was underway by the time we arrived and watching it grow is really amazing.”
Ms Bellizzi is experienced in every facet of the wildlife response and has been washing and rinsing birds, and managing the swimming pools that help restore the birds’ waterproofing.
While much of the work involves bird handling, there are more mundane tasks such as cleaning the bottom of the pools.
“If you don’t have a clean pool you don’t have dry birds,” she says. “They eat oily fish and as they digest it the oil gets in the water and creates slicks on the surface, so we siphon and skim the pools to make sure they’re clean.”