The magpie is an extremely peculiar and unique bird. Known to be both inquisitive and intelligent for its species, magpies have a history of creating and using tools to cut food for their chicks, recognizing themselves in reflections, and uncannily mimicking sounds such as human voices, dogs barking, or even machinery.
These human-like birds have been around for centuries, with one subspecies only found on one, tiny island. The Seychelles magpie robin calls the 500-acre granite island Fregate its home. Found in the Indian Ocean, Fregate is “part tropical paradise, part wild isle — a place where brochure-worthy beaches are inhabited by creatures seemingly plucked from the Galápagos,” according to National Geographic.
Although Fregate was able to be a happy and sustainable home for the Seychelles magpie robin, also known as SMR, things took a turn in the second half of the 20th century. The native flora and fauna was demolished to make room for farming, effectively annihilating the SMR’s natural habitat. Cat and rats were also introduced at this time, likely having been brought over during construction, becoming the SMR’s new predators and diminishing the bird population even further.
By the mid-1960s, the birds were critically endangered with only 12 remaining on the island. Fregate was eager to help the dwindling SMR population, and by 1990, they were able to get help from conservationists. BirdLife International began preservation efforts by removing predators from nesting areas and eradicating dangerous pesticides. By the late 1990s, a private investor stepped in and offered to work with the Seychelles government to transform the island into a conservation-focused retreat.
Once the last feral cat was removed, the recovery program was initiated in 1994. This included supplementary feeding, nest defense, relocation some birds to neighboring islands, and controlling introduced species. The island even built wooden birdhouses for the SMR high off the ground, as opposed to in tall grass where the birds naturally build their nests, to keep the eggs and chicks protected from predators. Finally, the birds were tagged with colorful bands around their legs to make further tracking and research easier.
Now, there are nearly 200 SMR on Fregate, with even more on the neighboring islands. Although the birds are no longer critically endangered, they remain on the endangered species watch list. Anna Zora, Fregate Island’s current deputy conservation and sustainability manager, commented that the SMR, “are very human-friendly, and still very curious. When we walk in the forest, we have that feeling of being observed, and every time we check, it’s them — the SMR. They observe us in everything we do.”
To help other endangered birds like the Seychelles magpie robin, sign this petition to restore the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.Whizzco