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New Petrel Station

Bermuda Petrel returns to Nonsuch Island (Bermuda) after 400 years…

Three Endangered Bermuda Petrels (Pterodroma cahow – also known as the Cahow), translocated to Nonsuch Island before fledging in 2005, have returned to the island, and been observed entering artificial nesting burrows constructed for them.

Bermuda Petrel was thought extinct for almost three centuries. In 1951, 18 pairs were rediscovered breeding on sub-optimal rocky islets in Castle Harbour, Bermuda.

The birds began to be moved to Nonsuch, in the entrance to Castle Harbour, after Hurricane Fabian (2003) caused the flooding and partial collapse of the islets, which contained the entire known breeding population.

In the last four years, a total of 81 chicks have been translocated, of which 79 have fledged successfully.

The 6.5 hectare (15.5 acre) Nonsuch Island Nature Reserve has potential nesting habitat which is elevated enough to be safe from hurricane flooding and erosion. The present nesting islets total less than one hectare (2.4 acres). Under the direction of Dr. David Wingate, Bermuda’s former Conservation Officer, Nonsuch Island has undergone ecological restoration over the last 45 years, with the replanting of native and endemic trees and plants. “This has now formed a young closed-canopy forest, similar to what the first settlers on the island in the early 1600s described the bird as nesting under”, said Jeremy Madeiros of Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services, who has managed the Cahow Recovery Programme since David Wingate’s retirement.

[Dr David Wingate, is an ornithologist, naturalist and conservationist. In 1951 he helped Robert Cushman Murphy and Louis S. Mowbray re-discover the Bermuda Petrel - a species thought extinct since the 1620s. He was the Conservation Officer for the Bermuda Government Parks Department from 1966 to his retirement in 2000. Nonsuch Island is part of the chain which makes up Bermuda. It is situated at the eastern entrance to Castle Harbour, close to the south easternmost point of Cooper's Island.]During February this year, Jeremy Madeiros and Andrew Dobson, President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, visited Nonsuch Island at night to check for evidence of Bermuda Petrel breeding activity.

“One bird landed next to us so we could check its band [ring], weigh and measure it,” said Andrew Dobson. “It then spent at least two hours in the burrow.”

Jeremy Madeiros says the recapture of translocated birds back on Nonsuch and the courtship and nest prospecting activity are important milestones. But the project will not be considered a success until nesting occurs. “If this activity follows the pattern already observed at the original breeding islets, this could happen as early as 2009–2010.” Preparations are already underway to move the final 21 Bermuda Petrel chicks to Nonsuch in May and June, to bring the number of translocated chicks up to the planned total of 100 over the five years of the project. Andrew Dobson added: “These birds may not breed this year – but the prospects look very good. This is the first time Bermuda Petrels have been on Nonsuch for nearly 400 years!”

David Wege, BirdLife International’s Caribbean Programme Manager, said: “The Bermuda Petrel has been making a steady recovery from the very brink of extinction, thanks to some truly inspirational conservation management, but the lack of suitable nesting habitat on the Castle Harbour islets will always be a major limiting factor on future population growth. If the translocated birds continue to return to Nonsuch Island and establish a viable breeding population, the long-term future for the species will be significantly improved.” NB Funding for the Cahow Recovery Program and Translocation Program is provided almost entirely through local sources, through both Bermuda Government funding via the Terrestrial Conservation Unit of the Department of Conservation Services (Bermuda Ministry of the Environment and Sports), and numerous private donors and interested individuals through the NGO Bermuda Zoological Society (BZS) and Bermuda Audubon Society (BAS). Support has been provided Jack Ward, Director, Bermuda Dept. of Conservation Services; Nicholas Carlile and David Priddell of the New South Wales Department of Environment; Dr. Steve Kress and Susan Schubel of the National Audubon Society; and Mark Reaves of the Macaulay Library of Natural Sounds. Numerous Department employees, volunteers and student interns have also assisted in gathering information, translocating the chicks, and feeding and monitoring their growth until their final departure to sea.

4th July 2014