Nov 11
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In the News: Eradication of invasive brown rats from the Isles of Scilly

A project has begun on the Isles of Scilly to eradicate the invasive brown rat population in an attempt to secure the future survival of 14 seabird species.

The Isles of Scilly are composed of 5 inhabited islands and over 300 smaller uninhabited islands, which provide extremely important breeding habitats for many seabirds. There are 14 different seabird species which use the islands to breed, including the common tern, razorbill, lesser black-backed gull, puffin, shag and the European storm-petrel. In total, the breeding seabird population on all of the islands is around 20,000 individuals.

European storm-petrel image

The European storm-petrel is one of the 14 bird species which breed on the Isles of Scilly

An unwelcome visitor

The brown rat was first introduced to the Isles of Scilly from shipwrecks in the 18th century, which subsequently led to the establishment of a wild population. The brown rat is known to be one of the most successful and harmful invasive species in the world and causes tremendous damage to habitats it has been introduced to. On the Isles of Scilly, brown rats are known to predate the eggs and young of nesting birds, and they also carry and transmit various diseases. The total population of brown rats on the Isles of Scilly is thought to be around 34,500.

Brown rat image

Brown rat feeding on hen’s egg

How, where and when?

The project, starting at the beginning of November 2013, will cost over £755,000 and aims to eradicate the brown rat population on St. Agnes and Gugh, which are two of the inhabited islands in the Isles of Scilly. The company conducting the project is using techniques which have proven to be successful at eradicating brown rats in other areas while not causing damage to non-target species. Once all the brown rats are thought to have been eradicated from the two target islands, a long-term monitoring programme will begin and the local community will be encouraged to take precautionary measures to ensure that the areas remain rat free.

Puffin image

The Isles of Scilly provide an important breeding habitat for the puffin.

Taking responsibility

Johnny Birks, Chair of the Mammal Society, said, “Brown rats are not native to Britain… it’s our own fault they are so widespread and that makes it right for us to repair the damage we’ve caused.” The Heritage Lottery Fund and the EU Life Fund have both awarded money to the project, as have the Isles of Scilly Area of Outstanding Beauty Sustainable Development Fund and Natural England.

Read more on this story at BBC News – Isles of Scilly rat eradication to ‘save seabirds’ begins.

View photos and videos of bird species found in the UK on ARKive.

Hannah Mulvany, ARKive Content Officer.

Jul 27
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Endangered Species of the Week: Balearic shearwater

Photo of Balearic shearwater in flight

Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)

Species: Balearic shearwater (Puffinus mauretanicus)

Status: Critically Endangered (CR)

Interesting Fact: Like other shearwaters, the Balearic shearwater is named for its ‘shearing’ flight, in which it flies with stiffly held wings just centimetres above the ocean waves.

Considered to be the most threatened seabird in the Mediterranean, the Balearic shearwater is a medium-sized shearwater which breeds only on the Balearic Islands, in the western Mediterranean Sea. This species spends most of its time out at sea, where it dives into the water to catch fish and squid, using its long, sharp beak to capture its slippery prey. The Balearic shearwater returns to land to breed between February and June, and each pair lays a single large egg, usually in a small cave, cavity or under a boulder. Breeding pairs may remain together for many years. At the end of the breeding season, some Balearic shearwaters migrate northwards to winter in the Bay of Biscay, and may reach as far north as the United Kingdom and Scandinavia.

The main threats to the Balearic shearwater include predation by introduced mammals and entanglement in fishing gear. The breeding habitat of this species is threatened by urbanisation and by introduced rabbits, which compete with the birds for nesting sites, and the Balearic shearwater may also be negatively affected by pollution, oil spills and a reduction in prey abundance. As part of a recovery plan in place for the Balearic shearwater, rats have been eradicated from a number of breeding sites and a number of protected areas have been created. Studies into the species’ biology and populations are also being carried out. Efforts are underway to assess the problem of bycatch in fisheries, and awareness campaigns, together with mitigation measures, will be important in addressing this threat.

Find out more about seabird conservation at the BirdLife International Global Seabird Programme.

You can also read more about UK marine species in our National Marine Week guest blog.

See images of the Balearic shearwater on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

Jun 14
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ARKive’s Top Ten Seabirds

As their name suggests, seabirds are birds which live in a marine environment. They come in all shapes and sizes, but all show a range of adaptations to their ocean-going lifestyle.

To celebrate World Oceans Day, which took place on 8th June, we thought we would take a closer look at some of the fascinating birds which make the oceans their home.

Colourful clowns

Photo of puffin pair greeting

Like many seabirds, the colourful puffin spends most of its life at sea, only returning to land once a year to breed. This much-loved, rather comical bird only develops the distinctive colours on its beak during the breeding season. It typically nests in large colonies on offshore islands or on inaccessible cliffs with grass slopes, excavating a burrow into which it lays a single egg.

Masters of the air

Photo of male great frigatebird displaying

With the largest wing area to body mass ratio of any bird, the great frigatebird is wonderfully adapted to an aerial lifestyle, and is able to soar almost effortlessly above the ocean for long periods. This species lacks waterproof plumage and doesn’t spend time on water, instead taking food from just above or on the surface of the sea, or pirating it from other birds in the air. The male great frigatebird has a distinctive appearance, with a conspicuous red pouch on the throat which is inflated like a balloon during courtship.

Supreme opportunists

Photo of herring gull yawning whilst standing on cliff edge

The quintessential ‘seagull’, the herring gull is one of the most familiar seabirds in the northern hemisphere. Like many gulls, this species is a supreme opportunist and scavenger, able to take advantage of almost any available food source. While at sea, herring gulls quickly gather at areas of high food abundance, including around boats. This versatile species can also live inland, and even commonly nests on buildings in cities.

Dramatic divers

Photo of gannet preening partner

With a wingspan of nearly two metres, the gannet is the largest seabird in the North Atlantic. This species is known for its breathtaking dives, in which it plunges into the ocean, often from considerable heights, before catching its fish prey underwater. The gannet shows a number of adaptations that allow it to survive hitting the water at speed, including nostrils which open inside the mouth to prevent water entering them, and air sacs in the face and chest to cushion the impact.

Ocean wanderers

Photo of wandering albatross display

The wandering albatross has the largest recorded wingspan of any living bird, reaching a massive 3.5 metres across. These impressive wings allow it to glide effortlessly across the ocean, and the wandering albatross spends most of its life in flight, often travelling huge distances around the southern oceans. This long-lived species does not start breeding until it reaches 9 to 11 years old, and pairs mate for life.

Terrific tubenoses

Photo of European storm-petrel feeding

A tiny seabird barely larger than a sparrow, the European storm-petrel is superbly adapted to life at sea. Like other storm-petrels, it belongs to a group of seabirds known as ‘tubenoses’ due to their conspicuous, tubular nasal passages, which give them an excellent sense of smell and help them to find patchily distributed prey at sea. Its small, hooked beak enables it to grasp its slippery prey, while a gland in the nose is used to expel excess salt from drinking seawater. The European storm-petrel mainly hunts on the wing, dipping its beak into the water while pattering its feet along the surface.

Cliff-nesting auks

Photo of guillemots at nest on rocky ledge with egg

The guillemot is a member of the auk family, a group of seabirds which have been described as the northern hemisphere equivalent of penguins. Unlike penguins, these birds can fly, as well as being excellent swimmers and divers. The guillemot nests on cliff ledges, and its eggs are conical in shape to prevent them rolling off. When the young guillemot leaves the nest it has to take a risky plunge into the sea below, accompanied by the adult male, who will then continue to care for it at sea.

Icons of the Antarctic

Photo of Adélie penguins diving off iceberg

Penguins are among the most popular of all seabirds. Found only in the southern hemisphere, these flightless birds are often associated with the Antarctic, although some species actually live as far north as the equator. With wings developed into flippers and legs set far back on the body, penguins are excellent swimmers, and their waterproof, scale-like feathers help to keep them warm and dry. A true Antarctic species, the Adélie penguin is found around the Antarctic continent year-round, and is capable of deep dives to find the krill and fish on which it feeds.

Dancing fools

Photo of blue-footed booby pair in courtship display

A large, comical-looking seabird, the blue-footed booby is instantly recognisable thanks to its bright blue feet. The name ‘booby’ comes from the Spanish word for ‘fool’ or ‘dunce’, referring to the clumsiness of these birds on land. The blue-footed booby usually nests in large colonies and mates for life, with pairs performing an elaborate courtship display which involves alternately lifting each blue foot, pointing the head and beak skywards and spreading the wings.

Super seaducks

Photo of male common eider swimming

Perhaps surprisingly, some duck species spend most of their lives at sea. The largest duck in the northern hemisphere, the common eider breeds on offshore islands, rocky coasts, or pools in tundra, but outside of the breeding season it is found in shallow marine habitats. Traditionally, the down feathers of this species have been used to fill pillows and quilts. The common eider dives underwater to catch crustaceans and molluscs, particularly mussels, which it swallows whole, crushing the shells in its gizzard.

 

Read more about World Oceans Day on the ARKive World Oceans Day blog, and have a go at our virtual scavenger hunt!

View more photos and videos of seabirds on ARKive.

Do you have a favourite seabird? Let us know!

Liz Shaw, ARKive Text Author

 

Mar 9
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In the News: Worrying declines in the world’s seabirds

The status of the world’s seabirds has deteriorated rapidly over recent decades, with many populations now dangerously close to extinction, according to a new review by BirdLife International, a partner of the IUCN.

Photo of Balearic shearwater in flight

The Balearic shearwater, one of the rarest seabirds in the world

The review also reveals that seabirds are now more threatened than any other group of birds, with 28% of the 346 species being globally threatened and a further 10% listed as Near Threatened.

Almost half of all seabird species are believed to be in decline. The albatross family is particularly at risk, with 17 of the 22 albatross species currently facing extinction.

This new data details the rapid deterioration of creatures that provide a crucial window onto the condition of the oceans,” says Jean-Christophe Vié, Deputy Director of the IUCN Global Species Programme. “We must now use this information to enact changes that will reverse the loss of such an important group of species.”

Man-made threats

The most significant threat to the world’s seabirds is commercial fishing, which is reducing the fish stocks on which many species depend. In addition, thousands of seabirds are killed every year after becoming caught in fishing gear.

Photo of wandering albatross hooked and drowned by long-line fishing

Wandering albatross caught and drowned by long-line fishing gear

Seabird breeding colonies have also been decimated by invasive, introduced species such as rats and cats, which pose a particular threat to seabirds that breed on only a few small islands.

Further threats to seabirds come from oil spills, plastic waste in the oceans, and the potential effects of climate change.

Seabirds are a diverse group with worldwide distribution, and as top predators they also provide a valuable indicator of wider marine health,” says Professor John Croxall, Chair of BirdLife’s Global Seabird Programme.

Photo of puffin mistaking plastic for food to provide to chick

Puffin mistaking plastic for food to give to its chick

Call for action

There may still be time to reverse seabird declines, and the review is clear on the actions that need to be taken.

In particular, sites where seabirds congregate, such as onshore breeding colonies and offshore feeding grounds, need to be protected. To this end, BirdLife International has already identified many ‘Important Bird Areas’ (IBAs) for seabirds on land, and is planning to publish the first list of marine IBAs. These areas will then be used to develop a global network of Marine Protected Areas, to help manage and protect marine habitats.

Photo of Henderson petrel on the nest

Breeding on just one small island, the Henderson petrel has declined due to predation by introduced rats

Invasive species, particularly rodents, also need to be removed from seabird colonies. Several successful eradication programmes have already taken place, and more are planned.

Finally, more research is needed to fill in gaps in our knowledge of seabird populations and to tackle new, emerging threats to seabirds, such as energy generation projects and the effects of climate change.

Read more on the seabird review at the IUCN.

Find out more about BirdLife International’s Global Seabird Programme.

View photos and videos of albatross, petrel and shearwater species on ARKive.

Liz Shaw, ARKive Species Text Author

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