David Wingate and Jeremy Madeiros on Nonsuch Island with two of the recently installed artificial burrows. *Photo supplied
David Wingate and Jeremy Madeiros on Nonsuch Island with two of the recently installed artificial burrows. *Photo supplied

Fifty new homes are ready and waiting for our endangered national bird, the cahow. The artificial nest boxes were donated to the cahow recovery programme by the Bermuda Audubon Society. 

The nest boxes were designed by former conservation officer Dr. David Wingate, who worked with cahows for 50 years. “Cahows are soil-burrowing birds and in pre-colonial times they would have dug their own burrows, but for hundreds of years they had to survive on rocky little islands where that was impossible,” he explained. “As the numbers increased under the restoration programme, we started building artificial burrows out of cement, which was labourious, back-breaking work. I saw the need for a mass-produceable surrogate which was durable, light and compact enough to transport to remote locations.”  Conservation Officer Jeremy Madeiros tried some artificial burrows from Australia, but they were designed for a smaller petrel and were not ideal for the cahow, so Dr. Wingate decided to design his own. “These meet all the requirements of our picky national bird – a long, curved tunnel and a nest chamber that is in total darkness.”

“Cahows still have the instinct to dig their own burrows and probably will start to do that now that they are nesting on Nonsuch Island, where there are appropriate conditions, but this could delay the start of breeding by new-formed pairs by several years. The provision of ready-made burrows not only results in much higher nesting densities within a restricted area but can also speed up population recovery in a restoration project,”  said Dr. Wingate. The nest boxes could be used by any mid-sized burrowing sea-bird, said Dr. Wingate. He believes that other seabird conservation programmes around the world could benefit from them.

Manufactured in kit form out of durable plastic, the nest boxes are easy to install and have a removable lid so that Mr. Madeiros can monitor the progress of chicks. He has already installed a number on Nonsuch Island.  The Bermuda Audubon Society paid for the molds from which the kits are made and for the manufacture of 25 boxes. A grant from BirdsCaribbean paid for the other 25 boxes.

“I have been following the design and development of these boxes with growing excitement,” said Mr Madeiros.  “The labour-intensive and tedious mixing of tons of concrete over the years, and danger of transporting and landing this concrete in buckets on the nesting islands, was something that has to be experienced to be believed. These new burrows will make the whole process much easier and safer. It also comes at a great time when the recovering Cahow population is almost growing faster than I could keep up with! On behalf of the Department of Conservation Services and personally, I would like to express my deepest gratitude for this generous donation. This will be of great assistance in the recovery of Bermuda’s national bird.”