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Saving the Seychelles Magpie Robin on Aride Island

The Seychelles Magpie Robin is an endemic bird of Seychelles classified as endangered by the IUCN red list (BirdLife International, 2012). Before the human settlements spread across the Seychelles, the species’ home range included several islands: Aride, Praslin, La Digue, Marianne, Frégate, St. Anne, Mahé and Sud-est (Skerrett et al. 2001). For this insectivorous species the optimal conditions of foraging are: wooded areas, for the abundance of litter layer, cultivated areas like gardens, for the presence of bare and loose ground and grassy ground which can provide food such as baby lizards.

After the 1950s the population of SMR survived only on Frégate Island where, in 1965, it reached the all-time low of 12 individuals. After a successful recovery program, and consequent SMR population growth, several individuals were translocated to 5 more different Islands. In 2002, 15 SMR were translocated from FreĢgate to Aride Island and since then the population reached a maximum number of 32 individuals in 2013. Unfortunately after that peak, the population started to decrease dramatically until it reached a minimum number of 9 birds in 2015.

The aim of this study is to assess the causes of the SMR population decline on Aride and to implement measures that will 

improve the foraging habitat quality. Management measures to prevent any further loss and to increase the number of birds will also be investigated and put into place in order to bring this SMR population back from the brink of extinction. 

In order to achieve this difficult task, ICS employed a SMR Project Officer for a period of one year. However, funding is still required to purchase material to carry out selected actions strongly advised to improve the habitat conditions for the SMR and assure its recovery. A budget for the SMR action plan was compiled and a sum of 116,000 Seychelles Rupees, corresponding to £ 7,500  is still required. The detailed action plan, specifying all the actions to undertake, and associated detailed budget are available upon request. The actions include: providing nesting sites, tracking the birds’ movements to avoid juveniles’ loss, carrying out an ecosystem survey on both Aride and similar islands in order to inform habitat management and eradication of potential predators.

The SMR is a very important endemic species and its population is composed of very few individuals, furthermore the presence of introduced species on most of the inhabited Seychelles islands limit its expansion. The Aride population is at a very high extinction risk.  The identification and implementation of different actions is likely to improve the habitat quality for this small population bringing it back to its former numbers.

By: Licia Calabrese, Island Conservation Society (Seychelles)

with inputs from the ICS Scientific Committee.