Thursday, 2 August 2018

The Seychelles Magpie Robin

Photo: A Seychelles Magpie Robin (CTagg)

The Seychelles magpie robin (Copsychus sechellarum) at one stage was facing extinction. With numbers as low as twelve, it looked like this species would be consigned to the ages as another extinction brought about by habitat destruction the accidental introduction of rats (stowaways on shipping vessels). Fortunately this has not been the case at all and they have been a truly remarkable success story of conservation proving that it is not too late to take positive action and save a species.


Photo:SMR feeding on Banyan fruit (CTagg)
Denis Island has the privilege of being a part of their recovery. The magpies are believed to have inhabited most of the Granitic islands of the Seychelles however with the development of these islands and the introduction of rats by accident and cats (to control the rats), they quickly went extinct on all but one island (Fregate island). As part of the recovery efforts, the magpies were translocated to other islands that provided the right habitat for the and crucially, were rat and cat free. Translocation efforts not only increase the overall area the birds can be found in thus allowing a larger population of this highly territorial species, they provide security that should a population fail due to disease, habitat destruction or introduced threats, populations of wild birds still exist.

Denis Island was one such destination and, in 2008, 20 magpie robins were translocated here. Since then, the birds have been monitored by conservation staff on the island to ensure the population is stable/ growing and the birds are showing no signs of disease or abnormal behaviour. It is was observed that the invasive myna bird on Denis was having a detrimental effect on nesting success as this problematic species is a nest raider eating both eggs and chicks. This species was eradicated in 2015 and it is with great pleasure to say that since the initial 20 birds first released, the 2016 census showed magpie numbers on Denis were up to 78!

Photo: The Seychelles magpie robin has a varied diet and is capable of hunting and feeding on the Seychelles skinks; Trachylepis seychellensis (CTagg)
Success stories like this are only possible thanks to constant monitoring of populations of wildlife especially species at risk and then the appropriate steps taken to ensure success. Even after the huge challenges of moving a species, constant monitoring still needs to be done to look for any potential problems on the horizon which can be prevented before having a chance to take hold.
By visiting Denis or the other islands with magpie populations, you are helping contribute to the protection of such a fascinating species and we hope you are fortunate to see these charismatic birds whilst you are here.
Photo: The feathers of a Seychelles magpie robin are very glossy so in sunlight shimmer iridescently (CTagg)

Fun fact: The Creole name for this species is pisantez means ‘singing pie’. Pie after the birds black and white plumage, and singing because of its melodic voice.

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