April 17, 2009

Bermuda’s Rare National Bird Shows Promising Mating Signs

Bermuda's national bird, which is on the brink of extinction, has shown signs of mating after a baby bird was spotted on a secluded offshore sanctuary this week, the Associated Press reported.

The evidence of a nesting baby Cahow could help researchers bring the rare creature back from the brink of extinction.

Bermuda's Department of Conservation said on Thursday that scientists found the baby bird nestled in an artificial concrete burrow on protected Nonsuch Island.

Witnesses say it is the first recorded Bermuda petrel chick seen on the 16-acre site for centuries.

Only around 300 of the endangered birds currently exist in and around Bermuda. There is no other area in the world where the bird breeds.

Conservation officer Jeremy Madeiros has been overseeing efforts to revive the bird species for nine years.

Madeiros told AP he was "beyond thrilled" to see that his efforts may be helping.

"To have a nesting pair produce a chick so soon is just such a big surprise," he added.

Spending most of its life on the open ocean, hunting squid, krill and anchovies in the Gulf Stream and beyond, the Cahow then returns to its Bermuda home only to mate.

The area has no invasive predators left there to threaten the species.

The blackish-grey headed and white-bellied birds give off an eerie, moaning cry and were once very common in Bermuda.

Before Spanish explorers discovered the islands in the early 1500s there were known to be nearly a million of the birds inhabiting the territory.

However, the population was devastated when British and Spanish sailors brought over pigs, rats, cats and dogs. The bird was thought to be extinct by the 1620s, yet a few breeding pairs in 1951 were spotted nesting on craggy islands off the British Atlantic territory's east end.

The Nonsuch reserve, started by retired conservation officer David Wingate, was created to provide a safe breeding ground for the Cahow. The reserve is now a living museum of flora and fauna found by Bermuda's first settlers 400 years ago.

"I cannot think of a more perfect success story to commemorate the settlement's 400th anniversary than this chick's hatching about a month ago," said Wingate.

Caretakers nicknamed the baby bird "Somers" in honor of Sir George Somers, whose shipwreck marked the beginning of Bermuda's permanent settlement.

Within nine weeks the bird will likely leave Nonsuch to spend three to four years at sea before returning to the exact spot from where it left to select a mate and begin nesting.

Madeiros said he's hopeful that next year we will see more chicks born on Nonsuch.

"We will then truly have secured a major victory in ensuring the future survival of this most extraordinary bird," he added.


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