Proof of life: the seabird egg that has Portuguese conservationists excited
Berlenga Island, off the West coast of Portugal, has a new inhabitant: the Band-rumped Storm-petrel. A female of this threatened species has laid an egg on the island, thanks to work by the EU-funded LIFE Berlengas project, which removed threats and made it possible for this small seabird to establish itself on the island.
The first Band-rumped Storm-petrel egg being incubated on Berlenga island demonstrates the success of the LIFE Berlengas project, which has been working for over four years to preserve biodiversity and restore habitats in the Berlengas archipelago. “We don’t actually know if, in the past, the Band-rumped Storm-petrel had already nested on Berlenga island. But it’s certainly a moment that fills us all with pride at the work we’ve done,” says Joana Andrade, from SPEA (BirdLife Portugal), who coordinates the Life Berlengas project.
This small bird was probably enticed by sounds and smells that the LIFE Berlengas team deploys to attract the species. When it arrived, the female Band-rumped Storm-petrel found the perfect spot to lay its egg: an artificial nest built by the team. Just as important is what it didn’t find: predators.
Predators such as rats – which arrive as stowaways on boats – or cats – taken to islands as pets – can decimate populations of seabirds, which evolved for thousands of years with no predators. These predators make such an impact that the Band-rumped Storm-petrel only nests on uninhabited islets or small, predator-free islands. Thanks to the project, Berlenga Island is now one of those predator-free islands.
“Having this bird nest on Berlenga is truly a sign of success, but keeping up this success will take everyone: not just the teams working on the ground, but also those who make a living on and around the Island, and the thousands of people who visit the Berlengas every year,” says Andrade.
Plenty of information is made widely available to tourists to ensure that a trip to Berlengas doesn’t pose a risk to Band-rumped Storm-petrels, Cory’s Shearwaters or other threatened species that inhabit this nature reserve: on the project website, at ticket sale points, aboard the boats that carry over visitors from nearby Peniche, as well as on the Island itself. For example, visitors should inspect all luggage carefully to avoid unwittingly transporting rodents to the island.
For now, the LIFE Berlengas team will follow this new inhabitant’s development closely, and monitor the island over the coming months, in the hope that more Band-rumped Storm-petrels visit and decide to make use of the artificial nests.
Life Berlengas – OLife Berlengas project aims to conserve the Berlengas archipelago’s biodiversity. Coordinated by SPEA (BirdLife Portugal), project partners are ICNF (the national institute for protection of nature and forests), Peniche Council and the Faculty of Social and Human Sciences of Universidade Nova de Lisboa; the Leiria Politechnic’s School of Technology and Sea is a project observer. Running from 2014 to 2019, the project is co-financed by the European Union’s LIFE+ programme and by the Portuguese Government. www.berlengas.eu
Sonia Neves, SPEA (BIrdLife Portugal)