Nigel no mates has a heart for stone

The Press - - News - VIR­GINIA FAL­LON

Nigel the lonely Mana Island gan­net fi­nally has some real com­pany – but it seems he’s so used to the de­coys he’s shun­ning the new­com­ers.

Nigel has spent the past two years alone on the island, off Porirua City, north of Wellington, with a colony of

80 fake birds.

But thanks to a tech­no­log­i­cal tweak by Depart­ment of Con­ser­va­tion (DOC) staff, he has been joined by three other gan­nets. A slight change in the sound sys­tem used to lure the birds was all that was needed and DOC hopes the new ar­rivals could start a colony.

But Nigel – so-called as he had no mates – ap­pears to be sus­pi­cious of the new­com­ers and is stick­ing with one par­tic­u­lar con­crete de­coy who has taken his fancy.

‘‘(The new ar­rivals) are on one side of the colony and on the other side is Nigel, who is still mak­ing love to his con­crete bird,’’ DOC ranger Chris Bell said. ‘‘He def­i­nitely has some sort of fetish. It’s tragic.’’

The con­crete colony was cre­ated

20 years ago, sur­rounded by fake bird poo, to lure gan­nets to nest on the island’s rocky cliffs.

A so­lar-pow­ered speaker played gan­net cries out over the ocean to at­tract pass­ing birds. But, al­though the oc­ca­sional gan­net swooped in for a look, none came to roost un­til Nigel ar­rived in 2015.

He paired up with a con­crete bird, even build­ing it a nest out of sea­weed and sticks.

Vol­un­teers con­tin­ued to main­tain the colony, re­paint­ing the de­coys and spray­ing white paint to mimic guano, but Nigel re­mained the lone live in­hab­i­tant.

Then, in De­cem­ber, a vis­it­ing sci­en­tist sug­gested the speak­ers were badly po­si­tioned and, 10 days after they were moved to a new spot, the three other gan­nets ap­peared.

‘‘I was flab­ber­gasted to see them. I nearly fell off into the sea in shock,’’ Bell said. ‘‘My feeling is the speak­ers were the crit­i­cal fac­tor – the gan­nets needed to hear the call from the sea and they couldn’t be­fore.’’

The three new­com­ers had been seen in­ter­act­ing with each other, while Nigel had kept to him­self. But Bell said he had played a role by at­tract­ing the new birds.

‘‘He may be a weirdo and they may not want to as­so­ciate with him, but he’s played his part. Maybe one day he will fig­ure it out.’’

DOC hopes the birds will stay, and start nest­ing this year. Any chicks born on the island would then be likely to re­turn there to breed.

With a 1.8-me­tre wing­span, the Aus­tralasian gan­net, or ta¯ kapu, is na­tive to New Zealand. There are 15 gan­net colonies, or gan­netries, in New Zealand and the birds also breed in Aus­tralia.

Nigel, right, with his con­crete part­ner. He has even built a nest for ‘‘her’’.

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