Fairy tern © Martin Harvey
One day, Terence Jessie, a student at the Institute of Technology, came to the Nature Seychelles centre at Roche Caiman with a package. When we opened it we found a baby Fairy Tern that he had discovered - apparently abandoned - at Baie Lazare on Mahe. For practical reasons Terence couldn’t take it back to place it on a branch to see if its parents would return.
It is not easy for Fairy Terns to nest safely on Mahe. There are too many hazards for them here, in the form of rats, cats, mynah birds and barn owls, all introduced species that predate native wildlife. On offshore, predator-free seabird islands, meanwhile, they thrive. But even there, the young must cling hard to the branch on which they are born. If they fall off the branch they are usually doomed. This naturally occurring mortality is not a threat to the species. The parents will simply nest again, usually performing their famous trick of laying an egg directly onto a branch, foregoing the effort of nest building.
Dylan was already a couple of weeks old when he was brought to us, which meant that he could be reared on fish morsels, roughly twice a day, morning and night. He soon preferred to perch on a television aerial than in the shelter of a porch. At least there he was out of reach of rats and cats, and just about safe from mynah birds and barn owls, which may be so unaccustomed to seeing such a bird in such a place on Mahe that they simply didn’t notice him. His choice of perch made feeding him something of a challenge. Tweezers had to be fastened to the end of a 5-metre pole.
And one morning he was gone. And then he came back, with another Fairy Tern by his side, and tried to land again on the aerial. But his companion appeared to have other ideas, and the two of them ‘danced’ off across the forested slopes of Mahe, to find a better perch – and hopefully somewhere altogether more suitable for a pair of Fairy Terns to settle down. Cousin Island Special Reserve, perhaps?
Our advice to you if you find a baby bird is to leave it where it is (in the case of grounded Fairy Terns, you could try putting them back on the nearest branch) – its parents are probably not too far away, and may well still be feeding it. If not, you will be left bringing up baby, and many of these tales do not have such happy endings as Dylan’s. Please note that Nature Seychelles is not equipped to do any more fostering!
Nature Seychelles, 13th January 2006