Fighting for birds


A force of nature, Jacques Nel gives injured and orphaned birds a fighting chance.

With growing demand for the care and rehabilitation of wild birds, Jacques Nel rose to the challenge of protecting our feathered friends by establishing the Owl Orphanage on Blueberry Hill in St Helena Bay 18 months ago.

“This is a matter of the heart,” he said, “and definitely requires mettle.” Working 24/7, Jacques and his volunteer team start by serving breakfast and medication to avian patients at the crack of dawn, continuing the care until it’s lights out at seven in the evening. “It’s tough, but we’ve been able to give dozens of birds quality care.”

Patients include the full gamut of wild birds: from owls, mouse birds, jackal buzzards and herons to kites and other birds of prey. Once rehabilitated, the birds are released on farms that don’t use poison.

Jacques explained that the biggest problem was people using poisons. “We live in a society that wants everything easy and cheap. So people resort to poisons to solve weed, ant or rodent problems. Poisons don’t break down and are active for three or four cycles, affecting birds and animals such as mongoose, genets, skunks, jackals, snakes, geckos and lizards feeding on rodents and ants. A prolonged, painful death ensues – something the poison givers never witness first-hand.”

“During the past few months, intake numbers have increased considerably,” Jacques said. He credits the growth, in part, to the sanctuary’s outreach efforts. “But demand also is fuelled by climate change, larger human populations, construction, more wire fencing, electrical overhead cables, poison usage, increased traffic, habitat destruction, more domestic dogs and cats, misunderstanding and superstition. That’s why the need to stimulate community awareness and establish places of refuge for our indigenous birds and wildlife have become more important by the day.

“And because our West Coast summers are hot and dry with little food and water available, we aim to use the property as an open oasis for birds. To this end we’re complementing the local vegetation by planting edible shrubs, as well as flowering and fruit-bearing trees.”

Surrounded by a green belt with a free-roaming dassie family, porcupines and duikers, the sanctuary is set on 1 700 square metres donated by an anonymous benefactor. Right now, a medical cabin is being erected and plans are afoot to extend the property when finances allow.

Having been in conservation and landscaping all his life, Jacques also participates in the West Coast Seal Project by disentangling seals and caring for orphaned pups. In addition, he measures whales washing up for the Department of Environment.

With his hands full caring for feathered fauna, his other passion as a fine artist has been put on hold for the time being. A die-hard bachelor, Jacques spends his bit of me-time diving – “sheer bliss, lost in another world”.

For escapism I bungee jump or do cable riding
My pet place on the West Coast is Dwarskersbos
My favourite restaurant is JP’s Bistro in St Helena Bay
I love eating fruit
My signature drink is Pina Colada or Mojito
Best TV programmes are the National Geographic channels

The Owl Orphanage is a registered NPO. For donations visit and for bird rescue emergencies phone Jacques on 0720405465.