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wirebird - credit Christina Stroud

Wirebirds on the up? Highest recorded annual Wirebird census

This year’s annual Wirebird census has shown an increasing population trend.

Each year the National Trust, working with volunteers, carries out an island wide count of the Wirebird population. The census provides information about how well the population is doing over time; with long term trends in the population size helping to identify whether conservation management efforts are being effective.

The 2016 Wirebird census was led by Eddie Duff and Kevin George. This year an astounding 559 adult Wirebirds were counted, the highest ever recorded adult count. At the same time, 86 juveniles, 52 chicks and 55 nests were also recorded.

wirebird - credit Christina Stroud

Image courtesy of Christina Stroud

Wirebirds are predominantly found in two main habitats on St Helena: dry, mid-altitude pasture and semi-desert areas. In these areas the grass or other broadleaved herbs are low in height and with some bare ground. They also like open views to help early detection of approaching predators.

The census, which covers 31 locations around the island, was first started in 1988/9 and has been carried out annually since 2005/6 during which time the number of adults, juveniles, chicks and nests is recorded. The census is carried out in January each year, mid breeding season, so most birds will be ‘tied’ to their nest territory and unlikely to move very far away.

Wirebird numbers in locations that have been under active predator control and pasture management have shown an increase in numbers. Deadwood Plain recorded the highest number of Wirebirds since 1988/9 at 106. Rather surprisingly numbers of Wirebirds have continued to improve in Prosperous, despite the disruption from the airport project.

The National Trust has been carrying out a programme of predator monitoring and control at the core Wirebird sites of Deadwood, Man and Horse and Upper Prosperous since 2011. The Trust has been supported in this work with grants from the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), DFID’s Overseas Territories Environment Programme and the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB).

Since 2012 and throughout the construction of the Airport, Basil Read has also carried out a programme of predator monitoring and control at Prosperous Bay Plain and Prosperous Bay North.

wirebird census

This year’s count and positive population trend is a reflection of years of hard work. The long term vision of the Wirebird Species Action Plan (2007, updated 2011) is “for the people of St Helena and Wirebirds to find a way to happily co-exist – allowing St Helena to develop and the Wirebird to thrive”.

The National Trust wishes to say a big thank you to all those who’ve been working hard on the land and for conservation and pasture improvement, particularly the graziers of the mitigation sites and the conservation team at Basil Read, to everyone who helped out with the annual census and to the RSPB, who have been steadfast supporters for the conservation of the Wirebird over the last 10 years. Keep up the good work!

Dennis Leo & Rebecca Cairns-Wicks, St Helena National Trust

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