Nigel no mates has a heart for stone
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.