A royal albatross chick has had a lucky escape after a plastic toy pony was served up for its dinner.
The pony was discovered in the chick's nest at Taiaroa Head on Otago Peninsula by the Department of Conservation while the birds were being weighed last week.
Department ranger Sharyn Broni said the 9cm-long plastic toy could have caused serious injury to the chick.
"The legs could've got stuck in the throat and done some damage. Also plastic has not got any food value, so anything going in is not giving them any nutrition and we know from over in Hawaii that chicks can die of starvation from ingesting too much plastic," she said.
It appeared the pony was regurgitated by the parent to feed the chick and might have been in some fish found by the parent. Fortunately the chick had not eaten it.
Royal albatross only take their food from the open ocean, so it was unclear where the pony originated.
"We don't know how long that toy could've been out there - plastic lasts just about forever. More and more plastic all the time is going into the ocean. It's an increasing risk for seabirds and sea life.
"Algae grows on plastic once it's out in the ocean so it smells like their food as well."
The presence of plastic in the chicks' nests at Taiaroa Head was becoming an increasing problem.
"It's become an increasing problem over the years, many of the chicks have regurgitated small bits of plastic, things the size of bottle caps. But this is definitely the largest and most unusual piece of plastic we've found," Broni said.
It provided an important reminder for everyone to take care when disposing of plastic, and think about their consumption because there were plenty of alternatives now available.