Articles

Native Birds

Although over 190 different species of bird have been seen on or around the central islands of Seychelles (and the number is increasing all the time), many of these are occasional visitors or vagrants  while others, including all of the shore birds are migrants; they come here every year but do not breed here. Only 38 bird species breed here, and of these nine were introduced. Species that arrived in Seychelles with no help from man, and breed here, are called native species.


Grey Heron © Dao Nguyen

Chinese or Yellow Bittern © Chris Gomersall
 

Green-backed Heron © Gideon Climo


Black-crowned Night Heron
© George McCarthy


Cattle Egret © Dao Nguyen


Moorhen © Gideon Climo


Madagascar Turtle Dove © Conor Jameson

There are 19 native land bird species; the other natives are seabirds that spend much of their time at sea, returning to breed on the islands. Long distances over sea from mainland Africa and Asia, or from other islands in the Indian Ocean, are easily crossed by ocean-going seabirds, but are a big barrier to land birds that cannot feed as they fly, and will drown if they land in the sea. So it is very rare for new land bird species to reach Seychelles (although two species have reached the islands in recent years), and there are relatively few native land birds in Seychelles.

  • Grey Heron

Scientific Name Ardea cinerea
Creole name Floranten
Wingspan 175 – 195cm.
Population in Seychelles 40 birds in 1995; probably many more now.
World Distribution Africa (and Madagascar), Europe and Asia.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds on Mahé and Houdoul Island, but seen on many other islands.
Habitat Marshes, streams, beaches.
Nests In trees.
Eggs 2-4, pale blue.
Diet Fishes, frogs, shellfish from sea and freshwater.
Identification A very large long legged and long necked bird with a long, spear-like beak.

This is the largest wading bird you are likely to see in Seychelles, and it is the only bird to return to the granitic Seychelles after being made extinct here.
Some time before 1970, all the grey herons in the central Seychelles were killed by people for food, although they survived on some outer islands. Birds returned in the 1980s, and were breeding again on Mahé by 1990.
Grey Herons build their large, untidy nests in trees, usually in small colonies but sometimes singly. You can see grey herons fishing in streams in central Victoria. Sometimes in built-up places they are injured or killed by cars or when they fly into power lines.

In the old days, Grey Herons used to be tied up and kept behind houses as an emergency food supply.

  • Chinese or Yellow Bittern

Scientific Name Ixobrychus sinensis
Creole name Makak
Wingspan 42-47cm.
Population in Seychelles Around 200 birds.
World Distribution Asia, some Pacific Islands, Seychelles.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds on Mahe, Praslin and La Digue, sometimes seen on other islands.
Habitat Freshwater marshes.
Nests In reeds or shrubs 1.5m or less above water.
Eggs 4, greenish white.
Diet Tiny fish, frogs, insects.
Identification A small long-legged yellowish bird seen around freshwater marshes.

A very shy, small heron that hides in vegetation around the edges of ponds and marshes. It can climb stems of bulrushes, sedges and other wetland plants.
It is easiest to see in the early morning or evening, especially on La Digue plateau or certain marshes on Mahé (e.g. Plantation Club), in marginal vegetation or on lily pads or floating sticks. Because freshwater marshes are threatened by development, this bird is probably very rare, although it is difficult to record exact numbers, because it is so shy. It eats small fish and other water creatures.

This is an Asian species; Seychelles is the westernmost place where it breeds, and its only location outside Asia.

  • Green-backed Heron

Scientific Name Butorides striatus
Creole name Manik
Wingspan 52-60cm.
Population in Seychelles Unknown, but very large.
World Distribution Tropical parts of the world, including Asia, Africa, Central America.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds throughout the Seychelles, even on tiny islands.
Habitat Rocky shores, mangrove, shallow reefs, freshwater marshes.
Nests Solitary, in trees and shrubs.
Eggs 2-4, pale blue or green.
Diet Tiny fishes, frogs, insects, skinks, crabs, eggs of other birds.
Identification A tiny grey-brown heron.

A small, common heron found almost anywhere in Seychelles, even the tiniest islands. Despite its English name, its back is dark grey rather than green, and young birds are streaky brown. Green-backed Herons are common on the coast, where you can see them fishing in shallow water. Because they have fairly short legs, they don’t wade in the sea but often perch, crouched, on rocks at the edge of the water to hunt fish. Green-backed herons have a loud warning call, a harsh double croak, and this is often the first thing to tell you when one is nearby.

Green-backed Herons at the Plantation Club marshland have been seen using bread thrown by tourists as bait to catch fish.

  • Black-crowned Night Heron

Scientific Name Nycticorax nycticorax
Creole name Manik Lannwit
Wingspan 105-112cm.
Population in Seychelles Unknown; tens or hundreds of birds.
World Distribution Europe, Africa, North and South America.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds Mahé, Praslin, Silhouette, Cousin and perhaps other islands; seen on many islands.
Habitat Freshwater wetlands, mangroves.
Nests Communally, in trees.
Eggs 3-5, pale blue-green.
Diet Small fishes, frogs, insects, skinks, crabs, eggs, chicks and even adults of other birds.
Identification A small heron, most active in the evenings. Adults have a very black crown and back, grey wings and body.

A small heron new to the Seychelles, first seen here in 1992 when a single wind-blown vagrant bird landed on Mahé. More birds followed and around 1996 they started breeding here. Today, small breeding populations occur on several islands.
Night Herons build nests communally in the tops of trees, sometimes alongside other herons.
In the evening, groups of birds leave to feed, making a quacking call as they fly. They hunt in shallow freshwater streams, marshes and mangrove areas, and in grassy places, mainly by night.

The Black-crowned Night Heron seems to have colonised Seychelles successfully with no help from man, in only a few years.

  • Cattle Egret

Scientific Name Egretta garzetta
Creole name Madanm Paton
Wingspan 88-96cm.
Population in Seychelles Unknown.
World Distribution Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds Mahé and probably other islands; seen on many islands throughout the Seychelles.
Habitat Grassland and around human habitation, also freshwater wetlands and mangroves.
Nests Communally, in trees.
Eggs 1-3, pale blue.
Diet Insects, fish, skinks, crabs, eggs, chicks and even adults of other birds.
Identification A small all-white heron, sometimes with buff-orange patches on breast and head. Often seen away from water.

Cattle Egrets can be seen all over the world. In the twentieth century, the species expanded its world range greatly and it is now found on every continent except Antarctica. Egrets are a familiar sight round the Victoria fish market, where they feed on flies and scraps of fish. They eat a wide variety of foods and do well in man-made habitats. 
At breeding time, the normally pure white plumage of egrets becomes yellow-orange on the breast and head, and the bill (normally yellow) turns pink. They nest in large groups, in mangroves and other trees. No-one knows who the original ‘Madanm Paton’ was.

The Ministry of Environment sometimes destroys these birds at dump sites, as they carry disease and parasites.

  • Moorhen

Scientific Name Gallinula chloropus
Creole name Pouldo
Wingspan 50-55cm.
Population in Seychelles Unknown; hundreds-thousands.
World Distribution Europe, Africa, Asia, North and South America.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds on most large or medium-sized islands, but is most successful on predator-free islands such as Aride, Cousin and Cousine. Also on Denis.
Habitat Freshwater marshes and dense vegetation.
Nests In dense marginal marsh vegetation.
Eggs 4-8, sandy and speckled with dark brown.
Diet Insects, worms and snails, seeds and leaves.
Identification A black bird with red, yellow-tipped bill, yellow-green legs and large feet.

A bird of freshwater marshes and plateau woodlands. Its long toes help spread its weight when it walks on mud or floating plants, so it does not sink. It rarely flies or perches in trees, preferring to walk or swim. Moorhen pairs defend a territory, keeping others out; sometimes birds fight at the edge of two territories. Older chicks may stay on in the territory to help raise new broods of chicks. The adults have a loud call that you may hear even when they are hidden in dense vegetation. In the past, people ate moorhens and this, along with the loss of their wetland habitat, has made them rarer.

The Moorhen can breed up to nine times a year, laying up to eight eggs each time, but most of the chicks die before reaching adulthood.

  • Madagascar Turtle Dove

Scientific Name Streptopelia picturata subspecies
Creole name Tourtrel Dezil
Wingspan 37-43cm.
Population in Seychelles Unknown: tens of thousands.
World Distribution Different varieties or subspecies are found in Madagascar, Comores, Aldabra, Seychelles. Introduced to Mauritius, Reunion and Chagos.
Distribution in Seychelles Breeds on most large and medium-sized granite islands, also Bird and Denis.
Habitat Woodland, scrub, gardens.
Nests A stick nest is built in trees and shrubs.
Eggs Two white eggs.
Diet Mainly seeds, also fruit and a few insects.
Identification A large pink-brown pigeon with a grey or purple head, usually seen on the ground.

This pigeon is found naturally on many islands in the Indian Ocean. In Seychelles, different varieties or subspecies have evolved on Aldabra, the Amirantes (now extinct) and the granitic islands. Yet another subspecies has been introduced to some of these islands from Madagascar. The Madagascar type is large, with a grey head, and has replaced the native Seychelles type on many islands. The native type is smaller, with a purple head, and some may still survive on Aride, Cousin and Cousine. The Madagascar Turtle Dove spends a lot of time on the ground but is also a strong flier, easily flying between close islands.

When people first arrived on the Seychelles, Turtle Doves were so tame that they could be knocked out of the trees with sticks.

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