Seychelles Magpie-robin

Description and biology

The Seychelles magpie–robin is a thrushlike bird with fairly long legs. The color of its plumage (covering of feathers) is glossy black. Large white patches appear on each wing. The bird’s diet includes small lizards and a small amount of fruit.

A female Seychelles magpie–robin lays a single egg, which she incubates (sits on or broods) for 16 to 20 days. After the nestling hatches, it remains in the nest for about 3 weeks. It becomes independent after another 3 to 5 weeks.

Habitat and current distribution

This bird species now survives only on Fregate Island in the Seychelles, a republic consisting of a group of islands in the Indian Ocean lying east of the African country of Tanzania. In 2000, biologists (people who study living organisms) estimated that 90 birds existed in the wild.

Historically, the Seychelles magpie–robin inhabited coastal woodland. However, that habitat has been cleared to create farmland. Very few native plants survive on Fregate Island.

In response, the bird has adapted to living on plantations that grow cashews, citrus trees, coconut trees, or coffee. It can also be found in vegetable gardens. The bird normally nests in tree holes.

History and conservation measures

Now one of the rarest birds in the world, the magpie–robin was once a very common bird in the Seychelles Islands group. It disappeared quite early in the twentieth century from the islands of Félicité, La Digue, and Praslin.

The bird was present on the islands of Marianne and Aride until the 1930s and on Alphonse until the late 1950s. By 1959, only ten pairs were known to survive on Fregate Island.

Although this bird has been able to adapt to the loss of its habitat, it has not fared well against predators brought to the islands by humans. A tame, ground–feeding bird, it has been an easy prey for feral (once domesticated, now wild) cats. In the 1960s, efforts were made to control the feral cat population. By 1982, most had been eliminated.

The bird now faces competition for nesting sites and food sources from the Indian myna, a bird that has been introduced recently to Fregate Island. Seychelles magpie–robins eat cockroaches, dead or alive. When people used household pesticides to kill cockroaches, the poisons were also harming the birds.

In 1978, a few Seychelles magpie–robins were transferred to the island of Aride (a cat–free nature preserve) in hopes they would survive and multiply. They did not. In 1980, the total population of the species was 27. In 1990, with the species population down to 23 birds, Birdlife International initiated the Seychelles Magpie–Robin Recovery Program.

The conservationists built nest boxes for the birds and provided them with food every day. They replanted native trees in their habitat and banned the use of household pesticides. They began to control the mynah population.

They also educated the people of Fregate about the birds. Within a few years the Seychelles magpie–robin population had doubled, and it has continued to rise since then. Although the species is by no means out of danger, it has made remarkable progress.