Written by: Founder & Director, Jodie Scipio – Constantine
The St Helena Plover (Charadrius sanctaehelenae), better known as the ‘Wirebird’, is a small wader endemic to St Helena Island.
The Wirebird, which gets its name from its thin wiry legs, is the national bird of St Helena, and has been depicted on many artefacts including the St Helena coat of arms and flag, numerous logos (such as the St Helena Airport logo), various stamp issues, and once featured on our 5 pence coins (which were issued prior to 1998).
Wirebirds are mostly found in the areas of Prosperous Bay Plain, Deadwood Plain and Broad Bottom. They feed on ground-living insects like caterpillars and beetles, and use a ‘run and grab’ technique to catch them.
[And if one ever gets the opportunity to photograph a Wirebird – well you best be quick and have your camera at the ready because they tend to run away with some speed!]
Information gathered by the St Helena National Trust, from their ‘Ringing’ (bird banding) Programme in 2007, suggested that the Wirebirds can live longer than ten years. This was evident due that the fact that birds, which were rung in 2007, are still living today!
A Wirebird makes a ‘scrape’ in the ground and lines it with grass, lays two eggs and then incubates them for 28-days, with both male and female taking turns to incubate.Whilst the eggs are laid within a three day span, the chicks hatch hours apart.When the birds are not on the nest, it is covered with dirt to avoid detection.
2005/6 the recorded number of adult Wirebirds made a sharp decline, to the point where some 200–220 adult birds remained. This led to the Wirebird being listed as ‘Critically Endangered’ in the 2007 version of the IUCN Red List. Many felt this sharp decline was partially, among other factors, due to feral cats and rats preying on the eggs and chicks.
Wirebird numbers are increasing!
It has been over three months since the staff of the St Helena National Trust, and their team, conducted the annual Wirebird Census.
I spoke with St Helena’s Wirebird Monitoring Officer, Dennis Leo, who explained the procedure for the Census. Dennis explained that the team stood in a line (30 metres apart) and counted all birds on the ground. They continued this process for all 31 Wirebird sites, which included: Barren Hill, Deadwood Plain, Francis Plain, Longwood Golf Course and Rosemary Plain.
The graph (below) provided by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB), displays the overall population trend.
The results of the official count indicated there were 31 nests, 23 chicks, 68 juveniles and a whopping 627 adults – an increase of adults by 55 compared to the previous year.
This growth is likely due to the increase use of rat baiting and seasonal cat trapping as well as habitat restoration.
In closing, Dennis said:
“My feelings on the Wirebird population are positive as we had the highest count since records were kept, but as an Island, we need to control the cat numbers. Year after year we will need to place cat traps in our core Wirebird sites as the cats are always there. This can only be done if we take the same approach as we do with dogs. All cats should be registered and micro-chipped.”