Protecting Caribbean tropicbirds

This video from Australia is called Twitching Red-billed Tropicbird on Lord Howe Island.

By Hannah Madden, of the St. Eustatius National Park foundation in the Caribbean:

In January 2013 the St. Eustatius National Park foundation (STENAPA) started a seabird monitoring project, thanks largely to a small grant by the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Seabirds (SCSCB), which emphasises on Red-billed Tropicbirds (Phaethon aethereus). The project is managed by National Park Ranger Hannah Madden and intern Andrew Ellis, with the weekly assistance of two dedicated high school students. The aim is to assess the risk of predation on tropicbirds and establish the nesting success of this species. This involves visiting three nesting sites per week to measure and weigh chicks, as well as banding adults and chicks as part of a long-term research project.

A Red-billed Tropicbird monitoring workshop in 2011 run by conservation ecologist, and DCNA scientific advisor, Dr. Adrian Delnevo, found no breeding success for the Red-billed Tropicbird at several nesting colonies on Saba. Cameras set up outside nests captured photos of predating feral cats. The skills learned during the 2011 workshop have since then been applied to monitor this species on Saba and St. Eustatius. This combined with other information will be used to develop a coordinated conservation strategy for the Red-billed Tropicbird.

Given that Saba and St. Eustatius are home to the Caribbean’s largest nesting population of Red-billed Tropicbirds, STENAPA deemed it necessary to determine the risk of predation on St. Eustatius’ own Red-billed Tropicbirds. DCNA loaned STENAPA two cameras, which have been strategically placed outside active nests containing a young chick. Within just a few days one of the cameras photographed a cat outside one of the nests. It is too early to say whether the tropicbirds on St. Eustatius face the same risk of predation as those on Saba; data is still being collected and the results of this six-month study will be available in June. If predation rates prove to be high, STENAPA will take steps to control the feral cat population by working with the animal welfare foundation to sterilise/neuter or euthanise the animals. As well as cats, it is believed that rats may also play an important role in predation; live traps will be set up at nesting sites in an attempt to confirm this. It is hoped that the long hours and hard work invested in this project will bring interesting and encouraging results for the only species of seabird known to nest on St. Eustatius.

Besides monitoring tropicbirds, the project also aims to confirm the presence of Audubon’s Shearwater (Puffinus lherminieri, NL Audubons pijlstormvogel). This is a nocturnal seabird that is thought to nest in the cliffs of the northern hills of St. Eustatius, but its presence has long since been [un]confirmed. In order to determine its presence now, the team will have to go out at night with a playback device and play the call of the bird repeatedly to lure them into answering the recording, since Shearwaters tend to be most active around midnight.

For more information: read the article Conservation Science: Red-billed Tropicbirds on Saba and St. Eustatius.

Saba and St. Eustatius are home to the Caribbean’s largest nesting population of Red-billed Tropicbirds and may host the most significant breeding colonies in the world. After a workshop in 2011, a monitoring programme was launched in which very poor breeding success for several Red-billed Tropicbird colonies on Saba was discovered. In an attempt to find out the cause of the lack of recruitment, it turned out that predation by feral domestic cats (Felis catus) was the reason and to date this remains a major threat to nesting colonies of the Red-billed Tropicbird (Phaethon aethereus) on Saba. Cats and rats both pose a potential threat to the survival of Saban tropicbirds: here.

8 thoughts on “Protecting Caribbean tropicbirds

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