Two environmental groups have urged the public to stay away from egrets affected by a recent tree pruning incident that left several baby birds dead and injured.
The call came after pruners from the Leisure and Cultural Services Department (LCSD) insisted on trimming trees at Tai Po Egretry on Tuesday during the breeding season. Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden said many people gathered at the site Thursday following wide media coverage, frightening young egrets.
“When the nestling egrets are frightened by the crowd, it is possible that the disturbance will cause them to leave their nests and fall to the ground and get injured,” Kadooire Farm said.
The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society said more baby birds were seen on the ground on Thursday, likely because their parents had yet to return and care for them.
Young egrets were also seen lingering on the ground. The society’s conservation officer Woo Ming-chuan told HKFP that these egrets are unable to fly and may have difficulty finding food.
“Their parents may have no idea where they are,” she said. “If they continue to linger on ground level and cannot find food, they may starve to death or become very weak.”
Woo said the crowd may frighten adult birds, leaving young egrets in the nests. “Public concern about the incident is important, but our priority is the wellbeing of the birds,” she said.
The LCSD told HKFP that the pruning was deemed necessary because the typhoon season was imminent and the overgrown branches might pose danger to pedestrians.
“The LCSD has all along been following the standing mechanisms and guidelines on tree maintenance and management works,” it said.
It cited the “Guidelines for Tree Risk Assessment and Management Arrangement” and “General Guidelines on Tree Pruning” as examples, though the documents do not cover situations where wildlife may be affected by pruning work.
But Woo said the explanation was inadequate: “If the reason is typhoon and pedestrian safety, then we ask whether it must be done during the breeding season, and whether the scale must be this large.”
She said her society communicated twice in the last two years with the Civil Engineering and Development Department about carrying out pruning works in Tai Po Egretry.
“They also cited pedestrian safety as a reason, but they never pruned trees at such a large scale. When we told them it was the breeding season, they reassessed the situation and said there was no imminent danger, so they postponed the work,” she said.
“I don’t understand what happened this time that required large-scale pruning during the breeding season. I think many things have not been clearly explained.”
The society and Kadoorie Farm have urged the government to prosecute those responsible for the incident. Under the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance, it is an offence to disturb any wild birds or destroy their nests and eggs.
Kadoorie Farm’s rescue centre has received 15 birds following Tuesday’s incident. It said only nine of them remained alive and were under intensive care, but warned that “not all may be strong enough to survive.”
The Tai Po Egretry is home to 151 nests of several egret species and night herons, according to a survey conducted by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society last year.
The public is advised to report cases of bird injuries to the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department at 1823 or SPCA Rescue Team at 2711 1000.