St Helena Plover or Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae
Broad Bottom Mill Farm, St Helena
The UK Overseas Territory of St Helena is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and consequently has been relatively little visited by ornithologists. Prior to the colonial period, the island supported a surprising diversity of endemic bird species paralleled by large-scale endemism amongst invertebrates and plants. Since its discovery in 1502, the island has, however, suffered large-scale environmental degradation and invasion by alien species. This has resulted in the extinction of at least two endemic seabirds, a Pterodroma petrel and a Bulweria petrel, and a minimum of four terrestrial endemics, two rails, a cuckoo and a hoopoe. An endemic shearwater and a flightless pigeon are also known from sub-fossil remains but may have died out naturally at an earlier date (Olson 1975). The only surviving endemic species is a small sand plover, closely related to Kittlitz’s Plover Charadrius pecuarius, St Helena Plover or Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae (BirdLife International 2000) as it is known locally.
Despite these extinctions, St Helena still offers much to interest the visiting birder. Although the huge petrel colonies are a thing of the past, a substantial seabird population remains. This is dominated by Black Noddy Anous minutus and Fairy Tern Gygis alba. Red-billed Tropicbirds Phaethon aethereus are relatively common and Masked Boobies Sula dactylatra are increasing. The Wirebird is the principal interest amongst the terrestrial species but the current avifauna also includes attractive introduced species such as Java Sparrow Padda oryzivora and Madagascar Red Fody Foudia madagascariensis.
St Helena is so remote from the main migration routes that vagrants are very scarce. Accidentals from both sides of the Atlantic have been recorded, however. These are dominated by waders but have also included such unlikely species as Amur Falcon Falco amurensis and Purple Swamphen Porphyrio porphyrio.
The purpose of this document is to provide a summary of St Helena and its birds for birders interested in the island and potentially planning a visit. The information has been put together from a number of sources and it is intended to add new information as it becomes available. As such, readers are welcome to submit contributions by e-mail to [email protected].
The dependencies of St Helena, both Ascension and the Tristan archipelago, are remote geographically and interesting ornithologically in their own right, and can be found in this website as separate countries.