Tropicbirds on the Air

HILVERSUM – In a radio interview with Dutch radio show “Vroege Vogels” [“Early Birds”] Michiel Boeken and IMARES researcher Dolfi Debrot raised awareness with the Dutch general public for the situation of the Red-billed Tropicbird on Saba. 

Summary of the interview:


In 2011, the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF) and DCNA started looking into the tropicbirds on Saba to find out the status of the population. Saba is the most important tropicbird habitat in the Caribbean, since around one third of the entire Caribbean population breeds on Saba and uses Saban waters as foraging area. The initial idea was to investigate breeding success for the tropicbirds since these data can also shed light on the food availability and diet (egg size, growth rate, etc.).

Michiel Boeken has monitored the Red-billed Tropicbirds on Saba for the Saba Conservation Foundation and when during a training workshop organised by SCF and DCNA zero breeding success was observed, the decision was quickly made to investigated further. Camera traps were installed and the culprit turned out to be feral cats snatching tropicbird chicks from their nests.


IMARES was asked by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs to do additional research on the lack of breeding success and the predation by feral cats. Until recently feral cats that were caught, were neutered and released back into the wild to live a peaceful and happy life. It turned out that those cats suffer from severe starvation, malnutrition, parasites and diseases and their life is far from happy. As a result, these cats start to predate on other available food sources, such as Red-billed Tropicbird chicks. On top of that, the cat density at this particular nesting site was relatively high, because of the proximity to Saba’s landfill.

For comparison reasons, Michiel Boeken also investigated another colony, located further away from the landfill (so there were less feral cats) and it turned out that in this colony 60% of the chicks managed to fledge. This proved that the cats are indeed the culprits.

Several solutions to the problem were recommended:

  • Catch and euthanise feral cats instead of releasing them back into the wild.
  • Sterilisation of pet cats should be made compulsory so they will not reproduce and the urge to stray will decrease (many pet cats are already sterilised these days).

The people on Saba agree that ‘their’ Red-billed Tropicbird should be saved and protected and that the eradication of feral cats is essential to the survival of one of their ‘emblem species’.

IMARES will continue their research on the Saban Red-billed Tropicbird population to aid the conservation efforts for this species.


Listen to the interview (in Dutch). Source: Vroege Vogels website

Click here to read the original article (in Dutch). Source: Vroege Vogels website


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