'World's loneliest bird' dies surrounded by concrete replicas he thought were his family

‘It would have been nice if he had been able to hold on a few more years and found a partner’

Ryan Butcher@ryanjohnbutcher
Saturday 03 February 2018 19:50
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Gannet 'wooing' concrete replicas on Mana Island

A much-celebrated gannet, the only one of its kind living on an island off the coast of New Zealand, has been found dead surrounded by concrete replicas of birds it is believed he thought were his friends and family.

Nigel “no mates”, as he was affectionately known, lived his life on the edge of a desolate cliff on the almost-uninhabited Mana Island, with only 80 fake gannets for company.

His body was found alongside one particular concrete gannet replica conservationists say he believed was his partner. Nigel had attempted to woo the replica in 2013 in an act of courtship, which led to him building a nest from seaweed, mud and twigs for the bird.

“No mates” Nigel was lured to the island five years ago by wildlife officials, who first placed the concrete replicas on the cliff side in December 1997, broadcasting their calls through a sound system in hopes of establishing a new colony.

He was the first gannet to settle on Mana Island in 40 years and conservationists hoped there would be many more, but none followed and he developed a moniker among his fans of “the world’s loneliest bird”.

In a cruel twist of fate, three new gannets were spotted on the island last year on Christmas Eve, marking 20 years since the concrete colony was first established, and it was thought that Nigel would finally have some flesh-and-blood company.

Posting on Facebook, the Friends of Mana Island group, who throughout the years have kept Nigel’s fans up to date with his exploits, said: “Some sad news from the island ... Nigel our first gannet has died suddenly.

“Nigel won the hearts of Friends of Mana Island members and visitors to the island, settling there alone.

“Here’s hoping the three new arrivals stay and reproduce.”

The island itself is a scientific reserve and subject to a restoration project, with seabirds playing a vital role to the ecosystem, their droppings providing rich nutrients and their burrows creating homes for other wildlife.

Nigel’s body was found by Chris Bell, a ranger from the New Zealand Department of Conversation, who also inhabits the island alone.

He told New Zealand news website Stuff that it was incredibly sad to lose the gannet patriarch just as three new birds were joining the colony.

“This just feels like the wrong ending to the story. He died right at the beginning of something great,” he said.

Nigel surrounded by his concrete look-a-likes (Facebook/Friends of Mana Island)

“I certainly feel sad. Having had him sat there year after year with his concrete mate, it just doesn’t seem how it should have ended.

“It would have been nice if he had been able to hold on a few more years to find a partner and breed.”

The Friends of Mana Island group posted a poem in tribute to Nigel, with the lines: “We weeded, we painted, we sprayed guano around, we hoped you’d find the real thing.

“Three newbies arrived, a Christmas surprise, but suddenly you are gone.”

Nigel’s body has now been sent to the Massey University to determine a cause of death.

It is unknown where he will be laid to rest but one fan suggested on the Friends of Mana Island group that he be cremated and his ashes stored in a concrete urn made to look like him.

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