St Helena

Birding Saint Helena

Saint Helena (named after St Helena of Constantinople) is an island of volcanic origin and a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. The territory consists of the island of Saint Helena, and the dependencies of Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

Saint Helena island has a total area of 122 km2 (47 mi2), and is composed largely of rugged, volcanic terrain. There are several rocks and islets off the coast, including: Castle Rock, Speery Island, The Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson’s Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady’s Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), The Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, The Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre of the shore. The centre of Saint Helena is covered by forest, of which some has been planted, including the new Millennium Forest Project. The temperature is also two to three degrees cooler in the highlands, and it has heavier and more reliable rainfall than the rest of the island. It contains most of the island’s endemic flora, fauna, insects and birds. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are warmer and drier than the centre of the island.

When the island was discovered, it was covered with unique (indigenous) vegetation, including the remarkable cabbage tree species of St Helena. The flora of St Helena contains a high proportion of endemic species, i.e., those found nowhere else. The island’s hinterland must have been a dense tropical forest but the coastal areas were probably quite green as well. The modern landscape is very different, with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, although inland it is green, mainly due to introduced vegetation. The dramatic change in landscape must be attributed to the introduction of goats and the introduction of new vegetation. As a result, the string tree (Acalypha rubrinervis) and the St Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica) are now extinct, and many of the other endemic plants are threatened with extinction.

The island is associated with two other isolated landmasses in southern Atlantic, also British territories – Ascension Island to the north in an equatorial position and Tristan da Cunha, which is outside the tropics to the south.

Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located more than 2000 km (1200 mi) from the nearest major landmass. As there is currently no airport on Saint Helena, travel to the island is by ship only. The RMS Saint Helena berths in James Bay approximately thirty times per year. The ship calls on such other ports as Cape Town, Ascension Island, Tenerife, Vigo, Walvis Bay and Isle of Portland, UK.

Saint Helena is not now a major breeding site for seabirds as Ascension is, but it used to have more endemic birds, all but one of which are now extinct. The Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae is a type of plover which lives in burrows around the island, and is the national bird. It is called the Wirebird due to its thin legs that look like wire. Extinct birds on the island include the Large Saint Helena Petrel, Small Saint Helena Petrel, Saint Helena Crake, Saint Helena Swamphen, Saint Helena Dove, Saint Helena Cuckoo and, most famously, the Giant Hoopoe.

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 69

    (As at September 2018)
  • Number of bird species: National Bird

    St Helena Plover (Wirebird) Charadius sanctaehelenae
  • Number of endemics: 1

    St Helena Plover (Wirebird) Charadius sanctaehelenae
  • iGoTerra Checklist

    iGoTerra Checklist
    Fatbirder Associate iGoTerra offers the most comprehensive and up to date birds lists on the web
Useful Reading

  • A Guide to the Birds of St Helena and Ascension Island

    | By Neil McCulloch | RSPB | 2004 | Paperback | 92 Pages, Colour Illustrations | ISBN: 9781901930467 Buy this book from
  • St Helena and Ascension Island: A Natural History

    | By Philip & Myrtle Ashmole | Anthony Nelson | 2000 | Hardback | 475 pages, 32 pp colour illustrations, line drawings, maps, diagrams, cased | ISBN: 9780904614619 Buy this book from
  • The Birds of St Helena

    | By Beau W Rowlands | BOU | 1998 | Hardback | 295 pages, 50 colour photos, maps | ISBN: 9780907446200 Buy this book from
Museums & Universities
  • Museum of St Helena

    The origin of the Museum of St Helena begins in 1854 with the opening of St Helena Museum; among its contents were a sea serpent and a flying lizard!
  • African Bird Club - St Helena

    The UK Overseas Territory of St Helena is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and consequently has been relatively little visited by ornithologists. Prior to the colonial period, the island supported a surprising diversity of endemic bird species paralleled by large-scale endemism amongst invertebrates and plants…
  • Saint Helena National Trust

    The Saint Helena National Trust is an independent not-for-profit organization which aims to preserve Saint Helena’s environmental and cultural heritage. It was founded on 22 May 2002, the 500th anniversary of Saint Helena’s discovery. The Patron of the Trust is HRH The Duke of York. With Honorary Members: Mrs Jessica March MBE and the late Mr George Benjamin BEM

Abbreviations Key

  • National Conservation Areas

    Observatory WebsiteSatellite View
    St Helena has designated 23 National Conservation Areas (NCAs) under the Land Development Control Plan. The NCAs are split into four types: National Parks (3); Nature Reserves (6); Important Wirebird Areas (5) and Historic Conservation Areas (9). The Environmental Management Division (EMD) will be leading the development of plans to guide the management of the 14 ‘natural’ NCAs i.e the National Parks, Nature Reserves and Important Wirebird Areas.
Other Links
  • St Helena and Ascension Island Natural History

    The islands of St Helena and Ascension are two of the most isolated islands in the world - the tips of enormous volcanoes rising from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. St Helena was formed some 14 million years ago, but Ascension is only a tenth as old. On St Helena, plants and animals have evolved and diversified in isolation for millions of years and the landscape has been transformed.. In contrast, the ecological youth of Ascension leaves it strange and forbidding, but with its own biological surprises and its own austere beauty.

Fatbirder - linking birders worldwide... Wildlife Travellers see our sister site: WAND

Skip to content