LONDON – The story of a lonely seabird named Nigel who tried to woo a mate that had a heart of stone and died on an uninhabited island off New Zealand has captivated many on social media.
Though his chosen partner kept a cold silence, Nigel’s life shined a light on a yearslong effort by conservationists and devoted volunteers to repopulate his species on Mana Island.
“It seems like such a wrong ending for Nigel to die now,” said Chris Bell, 37, a ranger. “Just when it looked like it could get better for him.”
Nigel first landed on Mana a few years ago. In the 1990s, conservationists set up concrete gannets to lure real birds. They painted the decoys and played seabird calls over speakers.
On the first day, two gannets swooped in, Bell said. But the birds flew away, and the project stalled. Then came Nigel.
He took a liking to one of the replicas, Bell said. Month after month, the bird cozied up to his chosen mate. “He nested alongside ‘her,’ ” said Linda Kerkmeester, vice president of the environmental conservation group Friends of Mana Island. “He was seen wooing her by preening her. Nigel was also seen trying to mate with her.”
A botanist named the bird Nigel “no mates” because he had no friends.
Yet Nigel became the linchpin of efforts to draw other gannets to Mana. In December, conservationists redoubled efforts to build up the colony, repainting the decoys and moving the speakers so that bird sounds would be carried out to sea.
And suddenly, Nigel had company. “Within 10 days of that,” Bell said, “there were three more gannets.”
But Nigel? He avoided the birds, refusing to leave his concrete mate. Then, one day, Bell found him dead. “It’s really sad he died,” Bell said, “but it wasn’t for nothing.”
His presence most likely helped draw the three birds there and persuaded them to hang out. Bell said of a renewed colony, “There’s a chance.”