Introduced Land Birds
A little over two hundred years ago, there were no humans living permanently in Seychelles. When settlement occurred, people naturally brought with them the animals and plants they needed to survive; livestock like cattle and pigs, crops such as rice, maize and cotton. Ever since, more and more species have been introduced, some to help people survive, others simply for interest or as ornament. Some of these species, when introduced to a new environment in Seychelles, have thrived, while others have died out, and some have done well for a period, becoming quite common before becoming extinct for some reason.
Rose-ringed parakette © Asad Rahmani
Barn Owl © Jeff Watson
Feral pigeon © Conor Jameson
Barred ground dove © Jeff Watson
Common Waxbill © Gideon Climo
Madagascar fody © Gideon Climo
House sparow © Thor Veen
Common Mynah © Gideon Climo
Many of the birds that were introduced in the early years were species that had been brought in as cage birds, such as Barred Ground Dove, Madagascar Fody and Waxbills. Most of these are seed-eating birds, and they would have found it difficult to find enough food in the natural forests of Seychelles. As people cut this forest down and converted it into gardens and fields, conditions were made more suitable for many of the introduced birds. Now, most of the birds you see in and around villages and gardens are introduced species, not native ones.
Now we realise that introducing species can have bad effects on the environment and other species. Many introduced species are predators or competitors of native birds. The Indian Mynah can eat the eggs and chicks of endemic Magpie Robins, and also competes with them for nest places. The Barn Owl was deliberately released here in the 1940s and 50s to control rats but also eats Fairy Terns and other native species, and there is now a reward for killing them. When the Indian House Crow became established in the 1980s, the Ministry of Environment killed all the birds so that it would not become a pest as it is in East Africa. Although it seems harsh, it is better to control introduced species before they become a major pest than to wait, and try to control them when they are already well established. It would be difficult, or impossible to eradicate the introduced bird species that have been here for many years already.
For this reason, it is illegal to import live birds into the Seychelles without a permit.
One very common introduced breeding bird is not included in this book. Domestic chickens are kept almost wherever people live in Seychelles. They can survive in ‘wild’ conditions on uninhabited islands – for example, on Marianne. This is not surprising, as they are not very different from the wild Jungle fowl of forests in tropical Asia.
- Rose-ringed Parakeet or Ring-necked Parakeet
Scientific Name: Psittacula krameri
Creole name: Kato Ver
Population in Seychelles: About 50 birds.
World Distribution: India and Central Africa (where native), Europe, Mauritius, Reunion and Seychelles (where introduced).
Distribution in Seychelles: Mahé, Cerf, Silhouette.
Habitat: Gardens, woodland, scrub.
Nests: In holes in trees, and in buildings.
Eggs: 2-6 (normally 4), white.
Diet: Fruit and seeds.
Identification: The only long-tailed green bird on Mahé. Usually seen in small flocks in coastal areas, flying between fruiting trees.
Rose-ringed (also called ring-necked) Parakeets were seen occasionally on Mahé from the 1970s but only in any number since 1997. The first birds were probably pets, released accidentally or even on purpose. Now there could be over 50. They are attractive, lively birds but are very good at establishing themselves where they are introduced, sometimes becoming pests of gardens and orchards. Parrots can also harbour diseases of humans and birds. In Mauritius, where they have been introduced, they compete with an endangered endemic parrot called the Echo Parakeet for food and nesting sites. Here they could pose a threat to endemic Seychelles Black Parrots and the Ministry of Environment is undertaking an eradication programme.
Rose-ringed Parakeets have been introduced all over the world, with breeding populations in many countries - even England and Holland.
- Barn Owl
Scientific Name Tyto alba
Creaole name Ibou
Population in Seychelles Unknown: thousands of birds.
World Distribution Worldwide.
Distribution in Seychelles All large islands, many medium-sized islands.
Habitat Gardens, woodland, scrub.
Nests Tree holes, holes between/under rocks, perhaps buildings. Do not bring in nest material but just make a slight depression in which to lay their eggs.
Eggs 4-8, white.
Diet Rats and mice, birds, insects.
Identification A large pale owl. The only owl in coastal areas and off Mahé.
The Barn Owl is one of the most widespread birds in the world; its natural distribution includes all continents except Antarctica. It is only absent from deserts, northern Russia and Canada, and some remote islands.
It was not present in Seychelles when people arrived here but was deliberately introduced in the 1950s to control rats. On the larger islands, owls do eat mainly rats, although perhaps not enough to make a big difference in the rat population. Because they are good fliers they have reached the small islands where seabirds nest, where there are no rats. Here they eat birds, especially Fairy Terns and some endangered species. The Ministry of Environment gives a reward for Barn Owls that are caught and killed
In many countries where they occur naturally, Barn Owls are rare and declining, mainly because of changes brought about by modern agriculture.
- Barred Ground Dove
Scientific Name Geopelia striata
Creole name Tourtrel Koko.
Population in Seychelles Unknown: Hundreds of thousands of birds.
World Distribution SE Asia to Australia; introduced widely on Indian Ocean islands and elsewhere.
Distribution in Seychelles All large or medium-sized islands.
Habitat Open habitats: Gardens, plantations, scrub.
Nests Small, built of twigs in shrubs, trees and palms.
Eggs 2 white eggs.
Diet Mainly seeds, also small insects.
Identification A tiny long-tailed pigeon, grey with narrow darker bars, pink breast and blue beak.
The Barred Ground Dove or Zebra Dove is a pretty, small pigeon seen almost everywhere in Seychelles. It prefers very open, grassy places around human settlement and is less common in forest. Its cooing call can be heard throughout built-up places. Wherever there are seeds, or crumbs or rice are dropped, pairs or small groups of ground doves can be seen picking at tiny morsels of food. Male ground doves court females by following them and bowing down, raising their long tails to the vertical and fanning them slightly, showing the white tips of the black tail feathers.
Barred ground doves are commonly kept in cages and aviaries in many countries.
- Feral Pigeon
Scientific Name Columba livia
Creole name Pizon Domestik.
Population in Seychelles Unknown: Hundreds of birds.
World Distribution Found all over the world, especially in urban areas.
Distribution in Seychelles Mahé, Praslin.
Nests Untidy, twiggy nest built on ledges on buildings.
Eggs 2 white eggs.
Diet Mainly seeds.
Identification A large, stocky pigeon with plumage in a variety of colours, either grey or white or brown.
The Feral Pigeon is derived from a wild bird, the Rock Dove, which lives on rocky cliffs in Europe, Asia and North Africa. Humans have domesticated this bird, developing many different varieties for food, as homing pigeons or for their decorative value. But domestic birds have returned to the wild, or at least semi-wild, living in cities and nesting on buildings like the original rocky cliffs. Because they are successful at living alongside people in cities, they have become very common and widespread. Although in Seychelles they are not kept for food as much as they once were, there are many feral birds on Mahé – for example, around the National Library.
Fan-tailed white pigeons are kept in cages as pets by some people in Seychelles
- Common Waxbill
Scientific name Estrilda astrild
Creole name Bengali.
Population in Seychelles Unknown: Hundreds of birds.
World Distribution Much of Africa (where native). Spain, Portugal, Mauritius and Seychelles (where introduced).
Distribution in Seychelles Mahé, La Digue (also Alphonse in the outer islands).
Habitat Gardens, plantations, scrub.
Nests Large, domed, in shrubs or low trees.
Eggs 4-5 white eggs.
Diet Mainly seeds, for example from fatak grass.
Identification A very small bird with brown plumage with a bright red eye stripe and beak. Usually in a flock.
Waxbills were brought here as cage birds and either escaped, or were deliberately released. In the nineteenth century they were important agricultural pests as they fed on the seeds of grasses – including rice. Now they are less common and you are only likely to see them on parts of Mahé and the plateau of La Digue. Rice is no longer grown here and they eat seeds of other grasses, particularly fatak. Waxbills form flocks that fly around grassy places such as roadsides, making high-pitched twittering calls as they fly.
Today, waxbills are not as common as other introduced birds, perhaps because the habitat is not very suitable
- Madagascar Fody
Scientific Name Foudia madagascariensis
Creole name Kardinal or Sren or Tisren or Taroza (La Digue).
Population in Seychelles Unknown: Hundreds of thousands of birds.
World Distribution Madagascar (where endemic), Mauritius, Rodrigues, Seychelles (where introduced).
Distribution in Seychelles Throughout. This is the most widespread land bird in Seychelles, breeding even on tiny, remote islands.
Habitat Gardens, plantations, scrub, grassland.
Nests Domed, woven nest in coconut palms, trees or shrubs.
Eggs 2 - 5, blue.
Diet Mainly seeds, also insects (especially in breeding season).
Identification In breeding season, male is scarlet all over (a few are bright yellow). Out of breeding season, grey-brown with red patches. Females always grey-brown.
Fody species are found on many islands in the Indian Ocean, with species endemic to Madagascar, Comores, Mauritius, Rodrigues, Aldabra and the granitic Seychelles. This is probably the most colourful, which is why it has been introduced to many places. In the breeding season, male birds are bright red with dark wings and black face mask. Outside the breeding season, males lose much of their red colouring. Females are brown all year round. Although it is found on all the islands where the endemic Seychelles Fody or toktok occurs, the two species do not seem to compete. This bird prefers open places where it feeds mainly on seeds, while the toktok likes forest, feeding mainly on insects. The woven hanging nest is constructed using grasses, coconut fibre and other material.
In exceptional circumstances, the Madagascar Fody may interbreed with the endemic Seychelles Fody
- House Sparrow
Scientific Name Passer domesticus
Creole name Mwano
Population in Seychelles Perhaps only a few birds in the granitic islands (established populations on many of the Amirantes).
World Distribution Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America.
Distribution in Seychelles Mahé.
Habitat Built-up areas.
Nests In buildings.
Eggs 3-6, green-white.
Diet Mainly seeds, but also other plant material, insects, snails, household scraps.
Identification Male is red-brown above and has a black bib. Female looks like a female Madagascar Fody but sparrow is larger with a white patch on the wing.
The House Sparrow is one of the most widespread birds in the world. It is successful because it can live close to humans in towns and cities, nesting in buildings, and has a broad diet. Its natural home seems to be Europe and parts of North Africa and Asia. It was introduced to the coral islands of the Amirantes in the nineteenth century but did not establish a breeding population on the granite islands until about 2002, when a small colony was found in the port area of Mahé. This has been controlled but it is possible that some birds survive. Also, because this bird is found all over the world, individual birds will probably be brought in repeatedly on ships.
The Ministry of Environment used a combination of traps and poison bait to try to eradicate Mahé’s sparrow population in 2002-3
- Common Mynah or Indian Myna
Scientific Name Acridotheres tristis
Creole name Marten
Population in Seychelles Unknown: hundreds of thousands of birds.
World Distribution Asia (where native), Madagascar, South Africa and Indian Ocean Islands, Australia, warm islands throughout the world (where introduced).
Distribution in Seychelles All large and medium-sized islands; absent from a few tiny, remote islands.
Habitat Beaches, urban areas, gardens, plantations, scrub, forest from sea level to mountaintops.
Nests Untidy twig nest built in coconut tops, hollow trees, roofs of buildings, etc.
Eggs 2-6, blue.
Diet Fruit, insects, birds eggs, lizards, seeds, household scraps.
Identification A medium-sized brown-black bird with white wing patches (obvious in flight) and yellow beak, yellow skin round eye.
The mynah is one of the most successful birds in Seychelles. It is found on almost all the islands and in all habitats, and eats all kinds of food. It can make its nest in the top of a coconut palm, in hollow trees or in houses.
It is a popular cage bird in many parts of the world because it can mimic sounds and speech. Wild birds can mimic the calls of other birds.
Mynahs are aggressive and compete with other birds for nest spaces. They may also eat the eggs or young chicks of other birds. The endemic birds of Seychelles are particularly vulnerable to this kind of competition and for this reason mynahs are controlled on some islands.
You may sometimes see a mynah with a bare head; this is called ‘lerwa marten’ although there is nothing special about it, it has just lost the feathers from its head.