Flying high: 61 cahow chicks survive

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  • A freshly hatched baby cahow (Photograph by JP Rouja)

    A freshly hatched baby cahow (Photograph by JP Rouja)

The cahow breeding programme has set new records this year with 61 chicks successfully taking flight.

Jeremy Madeiros, senior terrestrial conservation officer and Cahow Recovery Programme manager, said 117 established breeding pairs were recorded, including ten “newly establishing, prospecting pairs” who could produce their first eggs next year.

And a partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology has meant that the popular CahowCam, offering researchers and members of the public around the world a live glimpse into a cahow burrow, was viewed more than half a million times.

Cahows, also known as Bermuda petrels, spend most of their life in the open ocean but nest exclusively on six small islands that measure a total of only 20 acres.

The endemic species were once abundant in Bermuda, but were quickly decimated after the colonisation of Bermuda through both hunting and predation by pigs, dogs, cats and rats. The nocturnal sea birds were believed to be extinct as early as the 1620s, but in the 1950s a handful of the birds were discovered nesting on rocky islets in Castle Harbour.

Since then, a dedicated conservation effort by the Department of the Environment and Natural Resources has inspired a regrowth of the species from less than 20 breeding pairs to more than 100.

As part of the Cahow Recovery Programme, conservationists have turned Nonsuch Island into a new nesting colony, moving chicks to artificial burrows on the island with the hope that they would imprint on the location and return in future years to nest.

So far, the programme has been successful with almost half of the translocated birds returning three to six years later to choose nest burrows and mates.

The 2017 season began in late October 2016, and ended on the night of June 27 when the last cahow chick fledged out to the open ocean, not to return for several years.

According to the Nonsuch Expeditions website, another 14 cahow chicks were translocated to a second nesting site on Nonsuch Island this year, bringing the total number to 65.

In addition, the first three cahows moved to the site in 2013 and 2014 have returned and began to occupy nest burrows with one new pair confirmed.

Meanwhile, the CahowCam received a total of 600,000 views, and was watched for a combined total of eight million minutes, with Jean-Pierre Rouja, CahowCam designer and Nonsuch Expeditions Team leader, crediting the partnership with Cornell Lab of Ornithology.

“We first started the CahowCam five years ago. We did it on our own, and it grew and grew year after year. In order to get further reach, we looked for who were the best cam people in the world to partner with, and that was Cornell.

“Cornell was really excited because unlike many of their other cameras, ours has Jeremy as a scientist front and centre and it’s important for people, especially students, to see a real world scientist doing something in their field.”

He said the project was a perfect demonstration of using technology to aid research and educational outreach.

“What started out as a media-driven educational outreach project has now evolved into an extremely effective conservation tool, contributing greatly to the protection and recovery of the species.”

Charles Eldermire, the Bird Cams Project leader with the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, said: “This season, working with Nonsuch Expeditions to showcase the cahow to a broader audience, was a great success, reaching hundreds of thousands of viewers and raising awareness about the ongoing need for investment in the cahow’s future.

“The foundation we laid through our partnership this year will allow us to continue improving the quality of the online experience in future years, and to further highlight the efforts of the Bermuda Department of Environment and Natural Resources.”

Meanwhile, Mr Madeiros said the recovery programme has proven to be one of the most successful programmes for the recovery of a critically endangered species.

He added that the Government had endeavoured to make use of new technology and management techniques as part of its long-term commitment to the effort.

“Public outreach and education is one of the main objectives of the recovery programme, and the CahowCam project and partnership with Nonsuch Expeditions has contributed greatly to the achievement of this objective,” he said.

“In addition to bringing the story of the cahow’s survival and recovery to an international audience, it has enabled previously unknown aspects of the breeding biology and behaviour of the species to be observed.”

Viewers this year were able to watch a cahow chick, named Shadow, hatch, grow and eventually depart his nest last month.

Since then, the video has caught a Storm Petrel, now called Stormy, return to the nest for the second year, fending off native red land crabs and attempting to secure a mate.

However, the efforts to save the cahows did run into a few challenges over the course of the year.

The website states that an “invasion” of rats swimming to Nonsuch Island was reported. While the rats were successfully eradicated, the incident highlighted the need for constant monitoring and vigilance.

Hurricane Nicole last October also presented a threat, with storm surge covering two smaller nesting islands but causing little lasting damage.

And in June one of the translocated chicks was killed by a swarm of honeybees that had occupied its burrow. That swarm was removed shortly after.

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Published Jul 15, 2017 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 15, 2017 at 5:41 pm)

Flying high: 61 cahow chicks survive

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