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Life in the Seychelles, Part III: Life on Bird Island

By Barbara Hoover 2 years ago
Categories Mahe and Curieuse

This week’s Life in Seychelles series will talk about the wildlife of Bird Island.

Bird Island is the most northerly island of the Seychelles, about 70 miles of Mahe. The small island is privately owned and was declared a wildlife refuge by the island’s current owners. The island is accessible to tourists who wish to enjoy a quiet couple of days. A few of our volunteers stayed for two nights last week. The blog on their stay was written by Chloe here.

Bird Island is very small, covering only 70ha of land, 1,500m long and 750m wide. It is basically a giant sand dune. Very little is known about the early history of Bird Island. The island was first recorded in maps in 1771. In 1808, a French ship was wrecked near the island. The 180 or so passengers on board swam to the island and used the islands resources to recuperate and construct rafts to sail to Mahe. The island was originally called Ile eux Vaches Marines or Island of the Dugongs, for all the dugongs that swam in the crystal clear waters. Unfortunately, they have currently gone extinct from the island. In the late 1800s, guano was being mined from the island. 17,000 tonnes were removed from 1900 to 1905. The current owner purchased the island in 1967. Since then, an airstrip and lodge was constructed. The island was declared a wildlife sanctuary in 1986.

The island is an important location for many species of birds, mainly the sooty tern. Several million sooty terns nest on the north-eastern corner of the island every year from May to October. Before nesting, the birds fly over the island for two to three weeks. When visited in their height in July, it would look as though there was a dark cloud over the island. The nest is a very simple scrape in the sand. Before the island was purchased and declared a wildlife sanctuary, the eggs of the sooty terns were harvested, as they were considered a delicacy in the Seychelles culture. The population went down to under 20,000. Now more than a million nest each year.
Fairy terns and noddy terns are also very common. The birds are very tame, and will let you approach the nests if you are calm and gentle.

The island is home to several resident birds. Noddies, ground doves, tropic birds, and egrets can be found year round. During November and December, more rare birds such as turnstones, crab plovers, crested terns, and bridled terns can be spotted. Many other birds can arrive on the island after being blown off course as well.
If you are not a bird enthusiast, or an ornithologist, there is still something for you. Many Green and Hawksbill turtles nest on the island. During the month of October, five or six turtles can be sighted nesting each day. Hatchlings can be sighted from January to March. They are absolutely adorable!

There are several giant tortoises that roam freely throughout the island. There are only two places in the world where these creatures can be found in the wild; the Seychelles and the Galapagos Islands. One of the Giant Tortoises, Esmeralda, is in the Guinness Book Of World Records as the largest tortoise in the world, weighing in at 296kg!

The lodge itself on the island is very eco friendly. There is no TV or air conditioning. The power used for hot showers is generated from the solar panels that are mounted on the roof. At any given time, there are no more than 30 guests on the island. There are many nature walks led by staff, offering opportunities for environmental education.

Besides being a very important piece of land for several bird populations and nesting turtles, Bird Island is a beautiful place to relax and enjoy the undisturbed beaches of the Seychelles.

Photo Credit : Chloe