The Life and Death of Nigel, the World’s Loneliest Seabird

By posted on September 5, 2020 8:11PM

LONDON — The tale of a lonely seabird named Nigel who tried to woo a mate that had a heart of stone and died on an uninhabited island off New Zealand has captivated many on social media.

Footage of the hen preening and cooing as he fruitlessly courted a decoy made of concrete has been watched obsessively online. Though his chosen partner saved a cold silence, Nigel, a gannet, gained the love of traffic and conservationists alike.

His solitary lifestyles shined a light on a yearslong attempt by means of an army of conservationists, committed volunteers and others to repopulate his species on the island.

News of the seabird’s loss of life in past due January hit the island’s caretakers and social media users difficult.

“It looks like this type of wrong ending for Nigel to die now,” said Chris Bell, 37, a ranger for the New Zealand Conservation Department, who determined the seabird dead in his nest. “Just whilst it looked like it could get better for him.”

Nigel first landed on Mana Island some years ago (conservationists fluctuate on the year). Mana is set sixteen miles, or 25.Three kilometers, northwest of Wellington, the capital. It’s also the site of an ambitious attempt to set up a flourishing colony of Australasian gannets, which can be discovered in social clusters off the coast of Australia and New Zealand. But styles of gannets have settled everywhere in the international, together with Scotland.

In the 1990s, conservationists installation concrete gannets at the western aspect of Mana to entice actual birds. They painted the decoys’ beaks yellow, the wingtips black, the plumage white. They played seabird calls over solar-powered speakers.

On the very first day, gannets swooped in, Mr. Bell stated by cellphone early Saturday. Conservationists congratulated themselves on their immediate achievement. But quickly, the birds flew away, and the undertaking stalled.

Then got here Nigel.

He speedy took a liking to one of the concrete replicas, in step with Mr. Bell, who says he’s the simplest full-time worker at the island. Month after month, the chook cozied as much as his selected mate, however “she” remained aloof.

“He nested along her,” stated Linda Kerkmeester, VP of the environmental conservation organization Friends of Mana Island. “He turned into visible wooing her by using preening her. Nigel changed into also seen trying to mate with her.”

A botanist doing a survey for Friends of Mana Island named the bird Nigel “no mates” due to the fact he had no pals.

“I think the saddest part of this tale is what an irritating existence to be relationship this stone hen and getting nothing again,” Mr. Bell said. “Not getting rejected, no longer getting encouragement.”

Though Nigel lived an ordinarily solitary existence on the island, he became the linchpin of the efforts to draw other gannets to Mana.

The colony becomes certainly one of the numerous seabird initiatives undertaken through a partnership that included a local tribe, Friends of Mana Island and the Conservation Department to power gannets to unfold out and inhabit different islands.

“New Zealand changed into a tremendous location for seabirds earlier than human beings arrived,” Mr. Bell said. “Lots of seabirds nested on the land. Bringing seabirds lower back to the land is vital.”

The seabirds are key to the undertaking due to the fact they offer nutrients in the soil for insects and vegetation to thrive, consistent with Friends of Mana Island.

New Zealand, whose native species had been devastated by means of predators like rats that have been introduced to the united states of America, is aiming for an environmental moon shot. The kingdom is waging a struggle to eradicate all invasive predators by way of 2050. Several islands have already been cleared.

Mana, which becomes farmed from the 1820s to the Eighties, is pest loose. It has been restored with 500,000 local timber, and lizards, seabirds and different native birds were translocated, Friends of Mana Island stated.

“Mana Island is a super scientific reserve because Mana by no means had rats,” Mr. Bell stated. “So it’s an incredible region to reintroduce species.”

In December, after years of hoping the Mana seabird undertaking could take off, conservationists redoubled efforts to build up the colony. They repositioned the decoys and moved the speakers so that recorded chook sounds might be carried clean out to sea. The fake birds got clean paint. And abruptly, Nigel had business enterprise.

“Within 10 days of that,” Mr. Bell stated, “there had been three extra gannets” on the island.

The conservationists had been elated but cautious, hoping they would live. But Nigel? He avoided the birds, refusing to depart his concrete mate.

Then at some point, Mr. Bell located him lifeless.

“Broke my coronary heart,” one man or woman wrote on the Friends of Mana Island’s Facebook page. “Teary-eyed,” said any other.

“It’s sincerely unhappy he died,” Mr. Bell said, “but it wasn’t for nothing.”

The bird left a legacy to the island, he stated. For all of us knew, Mr. Bell stated, “different birds had got here earlier than, visible the concrete decoys and said, ‘Ugh, we’re not fooled by that.’ But Nigel became fooled.”

His presence maximum in all likelihood helped draw the three birds there and persuaded them to hang out. Now, the desire is that the brand new flock will stick around — and breed.

“These birds have interaction with every different,” he stated. “And if the birds are communicating with each other, there’s a hazard.”

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