Tag Archives: Seabirds

Tropicbird and chick – #inacousin minute

Here is the first of our videos that will give you a peek at the goings on at the Cousin Island Special Reserve. In this video, it takes some tricks for this tropicbird to get to the well hidden chick. Sometimes all it takes is a little limbo limbo limbo…

Video courtesy of www.liammartinfilm.com

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#islands2014 Cousin Island: A conservation Success Story

Cousin Island arial shot for who is nature seyshells-001

Aerial view of Cousin Island Specia Reserve

Cousin Island Special Reserve in Seychelles managed by Nature Seychelles  is “one of the world’s great conservation success stories.” It is no ordinary island. Read More »

How to handfeed a tropicbird in five easy steps

Iona and the tropicbird

Iona and the tropicbird

We often receive injured or lost birds picked up by concerned members of the public. Recently, someone brought a white-tailed tropicbird juvenile which they had found. Although it was quite big it was unable to fly and so it could not go out to look for food. Riaz, our science coordinator took it home to look after it until it could fly. But he had to leave Mahe and go to Cousin Island for a few days and the bird couldn’t fly yet, so he recruited Martin, our community person, and his children to do the job while he was away. Let’s pick up this story from Iona, Martin’s daughter….

Dad came home from work on Friday afternoon with a box which had ‘bird inside be careful’ written on the top. When Dad stopped moving a bird’s head popped out. It was white with a black and white beak and speckly black bits. I got to hold it on my knee while we drove to a fish stall to get some fish for it. Dad said someone had brought it into his work in a box and we got to take it home to look after it for a few days. When we looked inside we saw the bird had a white body with black speckles. We gave it some fish but it wasn’t very interested, so we left it in the corner of the dining room. This morning we heard a lot of noise from the box and it was trying to spread its wings out so we got a bigger box and gently tipped it in.

Guess what I just did… can you gess? No? ok I’ll tell you, I HAND FED THE BIRD!!!!! well, I held the bird (the bird is called a white tailed tropic bird) while dad held the beak open and Sophie fed it. We have to force feed it because it’s a baby and we have to teach it to fly too! I bet dad is thinking “I wish I hadn’t taken that bird home”. Dad thought he would have to give it some fish and it would fly away. We also have to feed it 4 times a day. this is how to hand feed a tropic bird in 5 simpe stages; 1, mash up some fish or squid with some water and put on a plate. 2, gently grab the bird directly down and tuck your thumbs under it’s head. 3, then you wrap it in a old tea towel. 4, you take 3 people one to hold the bird firmly, the other to hold open the beak ( don’t break the beak.) and the last to shove the food down it’s throat, then the 2nd to close the beak. 5, if the bird shakes it’s head it could get very messy, but if it puts it head back and looks likes it’s choking it’s swallowing. repeat until the plate is empty.

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Martin and the children also left Mahe before the juvenile flew, so they brought it back to the office to be looked after by other staff here. After a couple of days we took it down to the beach next to our office and off it went. Sadly Iona wasn’t here to see it, but she was happy with this ending. Thanks Iona!

Ian’s Cousin Diary

June has been an extremely dry month on Cousin with a total recorded rainfall of 40mm. The wind direction varied from South East to the East South East throughout the month. The wind speed also varied in the range of 35-40km/h and on the night of 16 of June could have even reached at least 70km/h. This makes the sea conditions moderate to very rough most of the time.

The Seychelles Magpie robin (Copsychus sechellarum) Cousin population now stands at 38 rung birds spread over 11 territories. This is a considerable increase from previous months.

The en masse arrival of the Lesser Noddies for this month is the main highlight as the visitors are astounded by their abundant presence and their ‘kkeeleekk’ sound and not to mention lots of ‘pooping’ on their heads!

The noddies are here... (Jorge Fernandez)

The noddies are here... (Jorge Fernandez)

...and they "poop" alot

...and they "poop" alot

On that note, Eric and Mary have started off the breeding success monitoring for this species involving 10 selected plot/trees amounting to 100 nests. Other staff members are actively involved every fortnightly in the breeding success monitoring of the White Tern and White-tailed Tropicbird.

The Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres) is present in some numbers. Some were observed still in their breeding plumage.

Till next time. Ian.

Bird fight

It took the intervention of Cousin warden Steve Agricole to stop these two White-tailed Tropicbirds from feuding today. The two were really going at it and Steve decided to separate them before they drew blood. They seemed to be fighting over a nest. The fight kept going on though despite Steve’s attempt to call a time-out. Our two friends kept up the beak to beak combat. Steve was having none of it. He finally picked one up. But neither wanted to let go. Ending in this less than thrilling situation for one of them – hanging off the ground by its beak!.


Close up of beaks

Close up of beaks

Those beaks are as sharp as a knife by the way, with a jagged inside useful for gripping big, slippery fish. Tropicbirds dive for fish from a height of about five metres. They fold their wings and plunge into the clear water to catch flying fish or squid.

Afterward, the one left behind at the nest continued to make a ruckus and seemed to be castigating Steve for stopping the fight. After a while it settled down, its long tail up in the air. The entire fight happened very fast and I was lucky to catch it on camera.

When not fighting, Tropicbirds can be seen soaring high above the water, their white wings with black patches and long white tail outlined against the sky. On Cousin Island, the only other bird (for me) that can rival their beauty during flight are Fairy Terns.

Born to soar

Born to soar

The secret lives of shearwaters

This post was contributed by Michelle Kappes and Kevin Coustaut, Laboratoire d’Ecologie Marine at the Université de la Réunion.

Shearwaters, like most seabirds, spend most of their lives at sea.  In order to learn about where shearwaters go when they are away from their breeding colonies, Dr. Matthieu Le Corre from the Université de la Réunion has begun a research program to deploy miniaturized electronic tags on wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) at sites throughout the western Indian Ocean.  These tags, or geolocators, collect data on light level that can be used to determine the position of the bird at sea.  Basically, the time of local noon is used to determine longitude, and latitude is estimated by local day length.  The tags are attached to a metal ring on the bird’s tarsus using a plastic zip-tie (see photo).  The tags also have a salt-water switch, and due to their placement, we can determine when the shearwaters are in flight and when they are resting or foraging on the sea surface.  By taking advantage of this technology, we can begin to get a picture of how these wide-ranging seabirds behave during their foraging trips to sea.

Wedge-tailed-shearwater with geolocator

Wedge-tailed shearwater with geolocator © Michelle Kappes

Also using geolocators, recent work by Catry et al. (2009) demonstrated that 9 wedge-tailed shearwaters breeding on Aride Island remained close to the colony when raising chicks, and later dispersed up to 3,500 km to the central Indian Ocean Basin during the non-breeding period.  Last year, members of Dr. Le Corre’s research team recovered 6 geolocators from wedge-tailed shearwaters deployed at Cousin Island.  Preliminary analysis suggests that shearwaters from Cousin Island disperse further east during the non-breeding period than those from Aride Island.  However, a larger sample size will be necessary to confirm colony-specific differences in foraging behavior.

During 14-29 September 2009, we deployed 24 geolocators on wedge-tailed shearwaters breeding within St Joseph Atoll, Amirantes group, and 24 geolocators on shearwaters breeding at Cousin Island.  Field work is planned to deploy similar numbers of geolocators at sites on Réunion Island, as well as off Mauritius and Madagascar.  This will be the first attempt to simultaneously study the at-sea behavior of this seabird species across a broad range of breeding sites.

Ultimately, these data will help us answer questions such as: do wedge-tailed shearwaters breeding at different sites in the western Indian Ocean travel to similar locations at sea?  Are there specific ocean habitats that are of particular importance for this species?  Areas of the ocean that are important to shearwaters may be important for other marine species as well, so these data could be used to help identify marine Important Bird Areas and possibly oceanic Marine Protected Areas.

shearwater in burrow

Shearwater in burrow on Cousin Island © Conor Jameson

However, as the geolocators store these data on-board, we won’t be able to answer these questions until we recover the tags at the end of the breeding season.  This may prove trickier than it sounds because once shearwater chicks reach about a week in age, adults only return to the colonies for brief periods to deliver meals to their chicks.  So we may have to wait until the next breeding season starts in 2010 to recover these tags and unlock the secrets of where these different populations of shearwaters spend their time at sea!

Frigatebird interrupted

A Frigatebird rescued from the harbour was brought into our office today. It seemed unable to fly. Frigatebirds, abundant throughout Seychelles and breeding on Aldabra and nearby islands, are long-distance fliers that spend most of their life flying over the ocean with a gliding flight. However, they do not land on sea. Unlike other seabirds, the feet are not webbed, making it difficult for them to paddle through water. Their feet are also too small and do not give the bird the force needed to become airborne from the surface of the sea. For food, Frigatebirds pick prey from the water surface. They also snatch fish from other birds in the air. For seabirds, they have poor water proofing. We think the reason our bird will not fly is that it got a bit of water in its wings. No injuries were visible.

Rescued Frigatebird

We took the bird  outside and attempted to perch it on the mangroves, popular with Frigatebirds for nesting, but it was incapable of balance.

Frigate bird being taken to Mangroves

In the end, we decided the bird hide would be best for it to rest and recover. It is currently patched there where it has a great view.

The bird hide is the place where visitors to the wetland [Sanctuary at Roche Caiman] get the opportunity to view birds. It’s a nice place at the end of a boardwalk. Visitors to the hide are asked to observe these rules:
–    Stay quiet
–    Do not tamper with displays in the hide
–    Hold on to your litter or take it to the nearest bin
–    Smoking and chewing gum are strictly prohibited.

Somehow I don’t see the Frigatebird having any trouble with these rules. All the same we hope it will leave the hide and return to its long distance gliding.
More Frigatebird facts at our website

The south east monsoon cometh, and so do the seabirds

Paradise, am afraid, is slightly wet. The south east monsoon season is here and it’s been accompanied by some rain. I have been surprised to wake up to a cloudy morning and cooler temperatures. I even spotted one or two souls walking around in sweaters! The hills on Mahe look stunning in the early morning mist, and can stay that way throughout the day.

This is also the breeding season – starts May to October – for many seabirds and is therefore the best time to see them. The Sooty Tern or golet in Creol is the best known as their colonies number in the millions. The Sooty Tern colony on Bird Island for example where Nature Seychelles has helped the owners previously is spectacular and attracts many local and foreign tourists.

Nimo with old friend

 Saying hello to an old friend on Bird Island

However, many species such as the Fairy Tern and White tailed Tropic Bird remain outside the breeding season. On Cousin Island for instance its so easy to spot stunning Tropic Birds with their chicks nesting on the ground at the base of trees all year round that people are astonished by the tameness of the birds. Young tropic birds are cute and fluffy like this one below and as Cousin is predator free, and the birds are not used to harassment, it’s quite easy to approach them and take pictures.

tropicbird chick

This White tailed Tropic Bird chick is not camera shy

Seychelles small islands are nesting grounds for about 12 species of seabirds. During the breeding season species like the Lesser Noddy and Sooty Tern form large breeding colonies, with many thousands of birds all breeding at the same time in the same location. Before people settled on the islands of Seychelles, nesting sea birds were found on all of the islands. Killing by humans, nest disturbance and the introduction of predators like rats and cats have have now limited breeding. Some species like the Wedge tailed Shearwater or fouke in Creole, only breed on predator free islands such as Cousin and Aride.

Sooty tern eggs are prized in Seychellois cuisine but in the past over exploitation has ruined many colonies. Now the harvest is controlled although poaching still occurs. This year, 2009, the government decided not to harvest any eggs.

The monsoon also brings with it rough seas. Traveling by boat can be uncomfortable, terrifying or exhilarating depending on who you are. On Cousin, the landing site has been moved to a more suitable area on the North. Because of poor visibility and bad sea conditions activities on reef monitoring have been scaled down.

Read about the different species of  Seabirds on our website here and the work of the Seychelles Seabird Group coordinated by Nature Seychelles here.