Despite not being on major migratory flyways such as those on the continent, we get migratory birds in Seychelles. In certain seasons, shorebirds and waders can be seen.
Grey plover preening at the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman
Migrant waders fly thousands of miles from the Arctic regions to countries such as ours in search of warmer climates and abundant food sources. Using an innate instinct to migrate, triggered by various environmental cues including the change in seasons, they navigate across vast distances and continents, defy geographical boundaries, and often brave formidable obstacles to reach here.
As a result, their sighting on our shores is a high point for many local and visiting bird watchers. For most species, the season occurs between October and May, although some are visible all year long.
You will likely see these small, unassuming birds in shallow seas, beaches, mudflats, mangroves, freshwater wetlands, and grassy open places on land rich in invertebrates.
They may also have long bills for probing sand and mud where their prey lives. Additionally, they have long, featherless legs, which give them the name "wader".
Birds are seen in flocks alone or in pairs
During the past few weeks, mixed flocks of migrant waders have been spotted at the Sanctuary at Roche Caiman. Several sanderlings, whimbrels, and grey plovers were seen taking advantage of the increased life brought about by heavy rains. Invertebrates and crustaceans that these migrant waders consume are thriving at the site at the moment. Excited tourists observed them preening and feeding, and were delighted to check them off their bird list.
Seychelles has recorded 17 wader species. These include curlews, whimbrels, crab and grey plovers, sanderlings, sandpipers, sandplovers, greenshanks, and turnstones.
In some cases, birds are seen in flocks, while in others, they are solitary or in pairs and small groups. Ruddy Turnstones, for example, are commonly seen in flocks. They can be found on beaches, feeding on small invertebrates like worms, crabs, and insects. Whimbrels and curlews are sometimes seen alone.
Migrant waders do not breed here. Except for the Crab Plover, which breeds in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, most breed far to the North.
During summer in the North, marshy areas and lake shores are rich in insects and other invertebrates. Taking advantage of this explosion of food, the birds nest here and raise their young.
However, they cannot survive harsh winters when the ground freezes. As a result, the birds know it's time to escape the temperatures and dwindling food supply and move south. For many species, particularly those that feed on insects and small invertebrates, this could mean the difference between life and death.
Their wintering grounds allow them to replenish their energy stores, molt their feathers, and prepare for the long journey back to their breeding grounds.
Birds that are not yet breeding may not make the long and difficult journey north the next year, staying year-round in the Seychelles, which is why there are always a few turnstones, whimbrels, and grey plovers here.
Throughout their migration, migrant waders face numerous threats, including habitat loss, climate change, pollution, predation, and coastal development. Their long-term survival depends on conservation efforts.