Saturday 8 May was both World Migratory Bird Day and Global Big Day. Although Seychelles is not on major migratory flyways such as those on the continent, we do get migratory birds. Of particular note are migrant shorebirds and waders that can be seen during certain times of the year.
Our islands lie outside the main migratory flyways so we are never treated to the great spectacles that other countries, in East Africa for example, may experience. But we do get migratory birds. At least 16 species of waders are annual visitors to Seychelles. Waders are birds that feed in shallow seas and estuaries, which are rich in invertebrate life. Often, they have long bills for probing sand and mud for prey, and long, featherless legs to wade through the water. Waders and shorebirds commonly recorded in Seychelles include turnstones, plovers, sanderlings, and sandpipers.
Ruddy Turnstones (Bezros) breed in the Arctic in winter and migrate in Summer
Most breed to the north about 10,000km from Seychelles. There, in the summer, areas of marshy ground and lakeshores are rich in insects and other invertebrates where the birds can exploit this food. However, the birds cannot survive the harsh winters when the ground is frozen, and they migrate south to Seychelles, East African coasts and other places. Most arrive here in October or November and leave around May. Some birds stay year-round in Seychelles, so there are always a few turnstones, whimbrels and grey plovers present on beaches.
The Sanderling (Bekaso blan) is a northern hemisphere winter visitor to Seychelles
In addition to migratory birds celebrations, around the world birders and bird lovers were celebrating the Global Big Day, one of the biggest birdwatching days in the world. During this day, birdwatchers contribute lists of birds they have seen in a single day. In 2020, a record 2.1 million bird observations were recorded in 175 countries.
Bird watching has grown significantly. It is now well-established in many countries and many trips are taken for the sole purpose of seeing birds. Some regular tourists to Seychelles come to appreciate its birdlife. They visit nature reserves and sites like Cousin Island to see endemic and native land birds, as well as seabirds. They bring with them revenues that can be ploughed back into conservation. As a matter of fact, one of BirdLife's (Nature Seychelles is BirdLife in Seychelles) key programmes, the 'Preventing Extinctions Programme' is supported by bird fairs and companies that sell birding merchandise. In Seychelles, this programme has helped in the conservation of the Seychelles paradise flycatcher.
The Crab Plover (Kavalye) however breeds in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf
We have a rich birdlife; birds can be found in our homesteads and backyards, as well as coastal mudflats, wetlands, native forest at any altitude, and smaller, predator-free islands such as Cousin. Wherever you might find them, birds - both local and migratory - add colour to our lives.