Wingate’s bird boxes give cahows a new home

  • Birds nest: David Wingate (left) and Jeremy Madeiros on Nonsuch Island with two of the newly installed artificial burrows

    Birds nest: David Wingate (left) and Jeremy Madeiros on Nonsuch Island with two of the newly installed artificial burrows

  • David Wingate with one of the burrows.

    David Wingate with one of the burrows.


Bermuda’s famous cahows have 50 new purpose-built homes ready and waiting for them on Nonsuch Island.

The artificial nest boxes were designed by former conservation officer David Wingate and donated to the Cahow Recovery Project by Bermuda Audubon Society.

“Cahows are soil-burrowing birds and in pre-colonial times they would have dug their own burrows, but for hundreds of years they had to survive on rocky little islands where that was impossible,” Dr Wingate said.

“As the numbers increased under the restoration programme, we started building artificial burrows out of cement, which was laborious, back-breaking work. I saw the need for a mass-producible surrogate which was durable, light and compact enough to transport to remote locations.”

Artificial burrows from Australia had been tried by conservation officer Jeremy Madeiros but they were designed for a smaller petrel and were not ideal for the cahow, so Dr Wingate decided to design his own.

The nests are manufactured in kit form out of durable plastic, making them easy to install, and they have a removable lid so Mr Madeiros can monitor the progress of chicks.

He has already installed a number on Nonsuch Island.

Bermuda Audubon Society paid for the moulds from which the kits are made and for the manufacture of 25 boxes. A grant from BirdsCaribbean paid for the other 25 boxes.

“These meet all the requirements of our picky national bird — a long, curved tunnel and a nest chamber that is in total darkness,” Dr Wingate said.

“Cahows still have the instinct to dig their own burrows and probably will start to do that now that they are nesting on Nonsuch Island, where there are appropriate conditions, but this could delay the start of breeding by new-formed pairs by several years.

“The provision of ready-made burrows not only results in much higher nesting densities within a restricted area but can also speed up population recovery in a restoration project.”

He said the nest boxes could be used by any mid-sized burrowing seabird so he hopes other seabird conservation programmes around the world might benefit from them.

“I have been following the design and development of these boxes with growing excitement. The labour-intensive and tedious mixing of tons of concrete over the years, and danger of transporting and landing this concrete in buckets on the nesting islands, was something that has to be experienced to be believed,” Mr Madeiros said.

“These new burrows will make the whole process much easier and safer. It also comes at a great time when the recovering cahow population is almost growing faster than I could keep up with!

“On behalf of the Department of Conservation Services and, personally, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for this generous donation.

“This will be of great assistance in the recovery of Bermuda’s national bird.”

Dr Wingate helped rediscover the cahow, or Bermuda petrel, in 1951 and is credited with having saved the species. Last month, bird watchers spotted a cahow off the coast of Ireland — the farthest that Bermuda’s national endemic bird has ever been observed away from the Island.

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Published Jun 10, 2014 at 8:00 am (Updated Jun 10, 2014 at 12:02 am)

Wingate’s bird boxes give cahows a new home

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