Endangered seabird inches closer to extinction on UK Overseas Territory - RSPB

MacGillivray's prions - Gough Island (Credit: M Risi / RSPB)
MacGillivray's prions - Gough Island (Credit: M Risi / RSPB)

All but one chick of a threatened seabird have died this year at a monitoring site, putting the long-term future of the species in jeopardy. This is another devastating year for the endangered MacGillivray’s prions on Gough Island, a UK Overseas Territory island and globally important seabird nesting site in the South Atlantic.

Only one chick is still alive out of 50 monitored nests, with invasive mice eating many of the newly hatched chicks.

Mice were inadvertently introduced to Gough Island in the 19th century, most probably by sealers. The mice have since adapted to feed on a nutritious and plentiful food source – the seabirds. These mice are now a very real threat to the eight million breeding birds who live on Gough, including the Endangered MacGillivray’s prion and the Critically Endangered Tristan Albatross. Invasive rodents have already been responsible for the local extinction of MacGillivray’s prions from two French Southern Territory islands in the Indian Ocean.

The RSPB has been monitoring a group of these burrow-nesting nocturnal birds in a cave since 2014. The survival rate in this cave is seen as an indicator of how the birds are doing all over the island.

Since 2017 only one chick has fledged at this site. This is due to mice eating the chicks, or parents deserting the eggs because they themselves are being attacked by the mice. It is thought that these mice are largely responsible for the collapse of MacGillivray’s prion populations on Gough Island from about 3.5 million pairs in 1956, to 175,000 pairs in 2020.

A new paper, published in the journal Animal Conservation on Monday 15 February, predicts that these birds will continue to decline by 9% each year if mice remain on the island, with a 31% chance that they will go extinct on Gough by 2057. If the mice are eradicated, however, there is a high likelihood that the population will stabilise and slowly recover.

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