White-tailed tropicbirds are so familiar in Bermuda that the locals have a special name for them; Longtails. They are a harbinger of Spring on the island, nesting from April to October in the niches and crevices of the cliffs. The islands are home to the biggest population in the Atlantic (around 2000-3000 pairs), making Bermuda a vitally important outpost for this species.
Most of this year’s chicks will have fledged by now, with both adults and chicks heading out of sight into the Sargasso Sea – but a few stragglers may remain, where birds re-nested after an initial failure. Look out for them, looking a little like a white, flying cross, often high in the sky.
The Longtail population has been steadily reducing due to coastal development, competition for nest sites with feral pigeons, dumping and attacks by dogs and cats which are allowed to roam free. The Bermuda Audubon Society has been working to reverse this decline; one of their initiatives is to use ‘igloos’, artificial nest shelters made of SKB (a roofing material) coated styrofoam which help mitigate for a lack of nesting space and protect the birds from attack and the elements. They have been very successful on Nonsuch Island.
If you want to help these iconic birds, the Bermuda Audubon Society has igloos for sale, priced at $120 each.The Audubon Society explains, “Igloos can be located on level cliff tops or cliff ledges beyond reach of sea flooding, or on man-made terraces and sea-walls. They are easy and inexpensive to install, requiring only a mattock to dig a shallow depression, filled with sand for the nest, and about a bucket of cement to secure the dome and to camouflage it with a few natural slabs of limestone on the sides and top. Longtails are happy nesting close to human habitation, as long as the location is safe from predators such as dogs and cats.” Instructions are available on their website at http://www.audubon.bm/conservation/longtail.