The Bermuda petrel, or Cahow, is the islands’ national bird and one of the rarest seabirds in the world. Endemic to Bermuda, the long-winged Cahow spends most of its life out on the open ocean, returning to land only to breed. Remarkably, it was thought to be extinct for over 300 years, until a tiny population was discovered in 1951 on four isolated islets. This find led to the formation of a conservation and recovery programme in 1960. From a modest beginning with only 18 nesting pairs producing a total of eight fledged chicks in 1961, the programme has grown to reach a record 98 pairs producing 56 fledged chicks in 2011. Its success has garnered the praise of international conservationists such as Birdlife International. One of the major successes of the programme has been the re-establishment of a nesting colony on Nonsuch Island. Initial efforts to revive the Cahow population were hampered due to erosion and inadequate conditions of the birds’ nesting grounds. Between 2004 and 2008, 102 chicks were translocated to Nonsuch Island, where they were settled in artificial nests and hand-fed until they flew out to sea. In 2009, the first Cahow chick since the early 1600s was born here, and by 2011, seven nesting pairs at the new colony had produced four fledged chicks. “The Cahow… occupies a very special place in Bermuda’s history and culture,” says Jeremy Madeiros, conservation officer for the Department of Conservation Services. “[It] has become revered locally as a tough survivor and a symbol of Bermuda.” The Cahow was declared the islands’ national bird in 2003. It remains a critically endangered species, but it has come a long way from extinction.
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