Frigate birds reappear on Ascension Island after 180 year absence10/12/2012 11:57:50 A UK bird has been found breeding again on a remote island, almost 180 years since it was last recorded there.
December 2012. Two Ascension frigatebirds were spotted sitting on nests on Ascension Island, a UK Overseas Territory. The species has previously been confined to the outlying Boatswain Bird Island, which is just 1km², for decades after taking refuge there when feral cats overran the main island of Ascension.
Millions killed by cats
Dr Tim Stowe, the RSPB's International Director, said: "This is the news we have been waiting for since starting the project more than a decade ago. Many species on the UK Overseas Territories are threatened by non-native species and this project marks a landmark in conservation. Ascension is the largest, inhabited island where feral cat removal has been attempted and proved successful. What a wonderful Christmas present."
The discovery was made by members of the Army Ornithological Society, together with members of the Ascension Island Government's Conservation Department.
The adult male Ascension frigatebird is black overall, with a glossy green and purple sheen, but during courtship it develops a bright red gular (a flap of skin) that inflates to form an impressive heart-shaped balloon. The adult female is more rusty-brown, particularly around the collar and breast, and some individuals have patches of white on the breast and abdomen.
Ascension Island birds
Derren Fox from Ascension Island Conservation, said: "We were out with the Army Ornithological Society to work on some other seabirds in the area when Andrew Bray from AOS came up to us with a photograph of the bird on a nest. We were all incredibly excited and went to see the site and survey for further nests in the area. It's a great moment for Ascension conservation and a superb example of collaborative work between the FCO, RSPB and Ascension Island Conservation."
Feral cat eradication
The project to bring frigate birds back to Ascension Island has been a 10-year collaboration involving the RSPB with Wildlife Management International Ltd, the Ascension Island Government (in particular, seabird restoration fieldworkers: Raymond Benjamin, Adrian Bowers, Darren Roberts, Stedson Stroud, Anselmo Pelembe, Tara Pelembe, Dane Wade, Nathan Fowler, Richard White), many volunteers, the Army Ornithological Society, and Ascension Island Government Environmental Health (Kevin Williams and team for rodent control). Funding for RSPB's work on Ascension has come from the FCO, Defra's Darwin fund, and the European Union.
Female Ascension frigatebird sitting on eggs on Ascension Island this week. Credit Derren Fox