Nigel the lonely gannet dies as he lived, surrounded by concrete birds

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Nigel the lonely gannet dies as he lived, surrounded by concrete birds

New Zealand conservationists mourn loss of celebrated bird that was lured by replica gannets in the hope of establishing a breeding colony

Nigel the gannet, (right at the rear) with two fake cement gannets on Manna Island off the coast of New Zealand.






Nigel the gannet, (right at the rear) with two fake cement gannets on Manna Island off the coast of New Zealand.
Photograph: Chris Bell/Friends of Mana Island

If there is such a thing as a tragic life for a bird, then the life of Nigel “no mates”, a New Zealand gannet, probably fits that bill.

Nigel lived for years on his own on uninhabited Mana Island off the north of the country, surrounded by concrete replica gannets.

The immobile replicas had been put in place by conservation officers who used the sound of gannet calls broadcast by solar-powered speakers in an attempt to lure a colony to settle on the pest-free scientific reserve.

Nigel was the first gannet in 40 years to make his home on Mana, arriving alone in 2013.

There he remained, alone. That is until just a few weeks ago when he was finally joined by three real life members of his species. However, Nigel failed to befriend them, and then he died.

Department of Conservation ranger Chris Bell found Nigel’s body surrounded by his concrete friends.

“Nigel was very faithful to the colony,” said Bell, who also lives and works alone on the island, 2.5 kilometres off the west coast of the mainland.

“I think it must have been quite a frustrating existence. Whether or not he was lonely, he certainly never got anything back, and that must have been very strange experience, when he spent years courting. I think we all have a lot of empathy for him, because he had this fairly hopeless situation.”

Map of Mana

Bell said after Nigel arrived on Mana five years ago he began courting one of the 80 concrete decoys which had been positioned on the eastern cliffs, with painted yellow beaks and black tipped wings.

The gannet was observed carefully constructing a nest for his chosen mate, grooming her chilly, concrete feathers, and chatting to her – one-sided – year after year after year.

Nigel died weeks after three real-life gannets had settled on the island, with conservation staff hoping Nigel may have bonded with the flesh and blood creatures.

But he never showed any interest in the real-life birds, said Bell, instead remaining “aloof”, chattering to his concrete mate while the real-life birds got on with business in a different part of the colony.

“From a conservation point of view, he was a massive asset to have. Because the concrete gannets – they may have fooled Nigel – but they never fooled another gannet. We always considered Nigel increased our chances of getting a colony going, and that seems to be in the end what happened,” said Bell.

“He was an attraction that helped bring in other birds – gannets like to nest where a gannet has nested before. It’s really sad he died, but it wasn’t for nothing.”

Friends of Mana, a volunteer group which works on the island, said they were “devastated” by Nigel’s death.