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     LESSER ANTILLES SEABIRD SPECIES (Click on a species in the table for a description):


Black-Capped Petrel BCPE

Pterodroma hasitata

Brown Pelican BRPE

Pelecanus erythrorhynchos


Common Tern COTE

Sterna hirundo


Jamaican Petrel JAPE

Pterodroma caribbaea

Magnificent Frigatebird MAFR

Fregata Magnificens


Least Tern LETE

Sterna antillarun

Audubon’s Shearwater AUSH

Puffinus lherminieri

Laughing Gull LAGU

Larus atricilla

Bridled Tern BRTE

Onychoprion anaethetus

White-Tailed Tropicbird WTTR

Phaethon lepturus


Gull-billed Tern GBTE

Sterna nilotica

Sooty Tern SOTE

Onychoprion fuscatus

Red-Billed Tropicbird RBTR

Phaethon aethereus

Royal Tern RYTE

Sterna maxima

Brown Noddy BRNO

Anous stolidus

Masked Booby MABO

Sula dactylatra

Sandwich Tern SATE

Sterna sandvicensis


Black Noddy BLNO

Anous minutus

Brown Booby BRBO

Sula leucogaster


Cayenne Tern CATE

Sterna sandivicensis eurygnatha



Red-Footed Booby RFBO

Sula sula

Roseate Tern ROTE

Sterna dougallii





The presence of a photo indicates that the species has been identified during the surveys between February- May 2009.


The species is believed to be Extinct. *


The species is Critically Endangered *1


Species of conservation concern within the West Indies*2



·         The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) publishes lists of animals considered to be extinct, endangered or threatened. The presence of a species or subspecies on the list is based on strict, globally accepted criteria.

·         * ‘Extinct’ is defined as a species or subspecies believed to no longer exist and which are represented by museum species.

·         *1 ‘Critically endangered’ is defined as a species or subspecies which has declined dramatically to such low population levels that their continued survival is in serious jeopardy. Active steps must be taken to ensure their survival and in some cases extinctions may have already occurred.

·         *3 Species considered to be of conservation concern within the West Indies (Schreiber, E.A. and Lee, D.S. 2000 eds. Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology). This is based upon the estimated number of pairs breeding in the area and the threat to existing colonies.



Literature on the status, distribution and population of seabirds in the Lesser Antilles is inconsistent, often conflicting. Some of the islands in the chain have never been scientifically surveyed. Many have only been partly surveyed, or have only historic records or random observations. Whether the following species are in fact sub-species, endemic to the West Indies is also disputed: Cayenne Tern, Red-billed Tropicbird, White-tailed Tropicbird, Audubon’s Shearwater, Brown Pelican, Black-capped Petrel, Jamaican Petrel and Bridled Tern. Baring this in mind, it is no wonder that firm assertions on the conservation status of the breeding seabirds is impossible. This illustrates the need for scientific surveys, which we are undertaking, that will form the Lesser Antilles Seabird Breeding Atlas.





Also known as Wedrego, Diablotin and Plimico.

AUSH, Tobago Cays Marine Park, Lowrie, 2009

·         Highly pelagic (spending most of their time at sea) species in the Procellariidae family with Petrels. (Petrels and Shearwaters were the birds we most regularly saw when crossing the Atlantic, hundreds of miles from land).

·         They feed primarily far out at sea often grabbing squid which rise up the water column during the night.

·         They only return to land to breed in the cover of darkness. They call to their partner, a repetitive laughing call.

·         Their legs are incapable of supporting their bodies, so they shuffle on their bellies using their wings to propel them forward.

·         They nest in burrows in the ground; within natural rock cavities, created by other animals or excavated by themselves.

·         They do not breed until about 8 years of age.

·         Like other species in their family, they have heightened olfactory senses (rare amongst birds) allowing them to zero in on their prey from many miles away.  

·         During surveys they have dive bombed us from the sky defending their territory against the huge ‘gorillas’ broadcasting their songs on play-back min-disc.

·         Very few breeding populations have been identified with the survey area.


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Also known as Tropic and Couac.

Immature RBTR, St Eustatius, Hannah Madden, 2009


RBTR, St Eustatius, Lowrie, 2009

·         We first saw Red-billed Tropicbirds when approximately half way across the Atlantic. We heard their call and one or two birds were sighted each day from then on until c. 30 miles from the Sint Maarten.

·         Red-billed Tropicbirds are larger than White-tailed Tropicbirds. They are quite difficult to tell apart when flying, but if you are able to view the bird from above (often possible, as they often nest in cliffs) you will notice the barred black-and-white plumage of the Red-billed Tropicbird. As their name suggests they also have a ruby red bill, while the White-tails’ is more orangey-yellow.

·         By the far most useful identifier is their distinctive call, an escalating screech that resounds around their nest sites and is sometimes issued way out at sea. It is quite different from the staccato peeping call of the White-tail.

Juvenile RBTR, Barbuda, Lowrie, 2009

·         Like the Shearwaters and Petrels, Red-billed Tropicbirds have diminutive legs that are incapable of supporting their bodies on land. They also propel themselves forward by their wings, shuffling on their bodies.

·         They return to their chicks mostly during the late afternoon. A typical sight is of the birds spiralling around their nest sites repeatedly attempting to land.

·         They nest under boulders, in holes in cliffs, crevices in rocks, rarely on the ground at the base of a cliff.

·         Red-billed Tropicbirds breed widely in the Lesser Antilles, with a few key, large colonies on islands including Saba, St Eustatius, Antigua and within the Grenadines


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Also known as Golden Bolsunbird, Boatswain Bird, Scissortail and Yellow-billed Tropicbird

WTTR, St Vincent, Lowrie 2009

·         Like the Red-billed Tropicbirds, White-tails are highly pelagic spending all year at sea fishing for squid and fish, before returning to the land to breed.

·         We recorded very few White-tails in our study area, first registering them in St Vincent and later Bequia.

·         Literature suggest that the larger and more aggressive Red-billed Tropicbird outcompetes the White-tailed Tropicbird for nesting habitat, which likely compounds the wider threats to seabirds.

·         They look very similar to Red-bills but have yellowish beaks and distinctive, bold black wing stripes.


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Also known as White booby, Fou Masque, Booby Azul and Blue-faced Booby

MABO, Redonda, Lowrie, 2009

·         They are the largest of the Boobies in the Lesser Antilles.

·         Viewed in the air they appear large and white with a black tail.

·         Like the other Sulidae (Boobies and Gannet family) they dive for their prey, often feeding far out at sea.



MABO, Redonda, Lowrie, 2009

·         Their nest is a scrape on the ground generally with clear sight lines.

·         They will sometimes arrange pebbles and grit/ vegetation scraps in a necklace around it.

·         Like most of the other species they usually lay only one or two eggs, raising one large, fluffy, white chick.

·         Our study has identified only two small colonies of Masked Boobies on Redonda and near to Mustique.


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Also known as Boba Prieta, Gwo Fou Gri and Fou Brun


BRBO, Dog Island, Collier

·         Brown Boobies are understood to nest all year round, with peaks between March to June and September to October.

·         We have found them nesting to date in greatest numbers in January, at various stages of breeding, but most frequently with eggs or small chicks. We have observed them breeding widely, but in small, dispersed colonies.

·         We have observed many roosting and foraging Brown Boobies during our surveys and whilst sailing between islands.

·         They are the most commonly observed of the Boobies as they frequent coastlines, bays and harbours, often perching on buoys.

·         They catch fish, squid or molluscs by plunging from up to 20m in the air or diving after prey from the surface of the water. Their bullet shaped body allows them to dive deep after shoals of fish.

·         Like Gannets, Brown Boobies can often be seen flying in skeins low over the water back to their roosts, likely benefitting from the back draft created by the bird in front.


BRBO, Dog Island, Collier

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Also known as Tree Booby, Fou a Pieds Rouges

·         We encountered Red-footed Boobies breeding on Redonda and three main islands in the Grenadines.

·         As the photos show, they nest in trees creating ‘scratty’, shallow, nests with a few twigs.

·         They nest colonially, sometimes amongst Magnificent Frigatebirds who will pinch their chicks if left unattended.


RFBO chick and brown morph, Battowia, Lowrie, 2009

·         They have several colour morphs; often brown with white tails or white with black primaries and secondary’s. Their red feet are only visible when on land.

·         Like the Masked Boobies they will hunt far out at sea, often hunting through the night.

·         Like the Brown Boobies, we observed Red-footed Boobies in long skeins flying to and from breeding and foraging grounds in St Vincent and the Grenadines.


RFBO, Diamond Rock, Lowrie, 2010

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Also known as Old Joe, Ganuche, Pelican Brun, Grand Gosier, Gangagie.

BRPE, Barbuda, Lowrie, 2009

·         Brown Pelicans are adept plunge divers, dropping from 10m in the air into the sea.

·         We watched between five and six Brown Pelicans in English Harbour, Antigua, who had perfected the art of diving and shot into the sea repeatedly each day. They dive is shallow, with fish caught just below the water surface due to their considerable buoyancy.

·         Plunge diving requires considerable technique, with juveniles often being unsuccessful in their first years, until they have learnt the required art.

·         They will also sit on the water (often in Pelican ‘rafts’) grabbing fish from the seated position.

·         Unlike the other species we are surveying, Brown Pelicans are the only birds that catch fish by scooping them into their large pouches and then draining the water out.

BRPE, Barbuda, 2009, Lowrie

·         They nest in trees (rarely on the ground) and are extremely sensitive to disturbance, potentially knocking their young or eggs off their nests if the adults take fright and flap away.

·         The adults lay 2-4 eggs. We have observed up to three chicks per nest (at various stages of maturity) unlike all the other breeding seabirds, bar the Laughing Gulls, we have surveyed, who have only ever had a single chick.

·         We have often observed roosting birds on the islands or parties patrolling coastlines for fish. They do not venture far out to sea.

·         We have recorded only three small c Brown Pelican colonies on Sint Maarten and Antigua.


BRPE, Antigua, Friesen, 2009

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Also known as Hurricane Bird, Weather Bird, Man-o-War Bird, Scissors, Malfini, Fregate Superbe

Females MAFR on nests, Redonda, Lowrie, 2009

·         They exhibit an extreme life history: long incubation of single egg by both parents (50-60 days), long nestling (150-207 days) and post-fledgling stages.

·         The female is bigger than the male, with a wingspan of up to 2.5m and a body mass of 1100-2000 grammes.

·         Magnificent Frigatebirds have the lightest wing loading of any bird, facilitating their incredible acrobatic flight.

·         The male has a red pouch which he inflates during courtship. It is not otherwise visible. The species appears like a ‘kite type’ of bird soaring on thermals high in the sky.

Male MAFR displaying to females in mangrove, Barbuda, Sarah Trefry, 2009


·         The females have a white breast. The juveniles moult through various phases with white heads and breasts.


Male MAFR, Antigua, Lowrie, 2009

·         They nest in trees including mangroves and inaccessible shrubs/trees growing in gauges on cliff-sides. Goats and other herbivores are a threat as they remove their nesting habitat.

·         They are threatened as they nest in five main colonies in the West Indies. Barbuda is the largest colony with c.2000 pairs nesting.

·         They are ‘commensal’ feeders which means they benefit from fishing with other species. We saw this sailing across the Atlantic.  Frigates were following hunting Dorado fish which were causing aggravated flying fish to scud into the air into the awaiting beaks of the Frigates.

·         They are also ‘kleptoparasitic’, which means they steel prey from other bird species, robbing Terns and Boobies of their catch when they return to their nesting sites.


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Also known as Mauve, Gullie, Laughing Bird, Davy, Pigeon La Mer, Mauve a Tete Noire

Non-breeding LAGU in the foreground and breeding LAGU behind, Collier.

·         Laughing Gulls are migratory, although they are resident in small numbers on some islands in the Lesser Antilles.

·         They return to the Lesser Antilles to breed between May-July. We recorded large numbers breeding in the Grenadines in 2009.

·         As their name suggests, they emit a cackling laugh as they sit on a pier or buoy.

·         Like other Gulls they generally frequent inshore habitat, often being observed in large congregations near to fishing coves. We have also viewed them at sea, flying between islands or fishing in congregations with other birds.

·         Their generalist diet and nesting requirements appears to be allowing their increase in the Lesser Antilles, possibly to the detriment of other breeding seabird species.

LAGU nest, St Vincent Grenadines, Lowrie, 2009



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Also known as Egg Bird, Gaby, Gullie, Sprat Bird, Sterne Royale, Foquette

Two RYTE in breeding plumage (to the right) with black crowns and one non-breeding bird, Collier.


·         Like the Gulls and other terns, Royal Terns do not breed until the Summer Months (generally May- July).

·         Unlike the other terns they are resident all year in the Lesser Antilles. We observed the majestic birds on arrival in Sint Maarten in January and have viewed them throughout our surveys.

·         They generally inhabit harbours and coastal areas, patrolling beaches for sprats and other fish. They hover above the surface of the water and plunge dive, catching prey near the surface of the water.

·         As one of their local names suggests, like other terns and seabirds in the West Indies, Royal Tern eggs or young may be taken by locals as a delicacy. This is becoming less common, but still proliferates on some islands.

·         No birds were recorded breeding during the 2009 surveys. Hopefully, breeding will be recorded in the northern islands in 2010.



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Also known as Gaviota de Pico Amarillo, Grote Stern, Sterne Caugek

SATE, Collier

·         Sandwich Terns were observed infrequently foraging near shore around islands.

·         They are rare in the region, generally breeding in the north of the chain- Anguilla, Virgin Islands and the Greater Antilles.

·         The first breeding colony was found in the West Indies in 1965.

·         They also breed on the Atlantic coast of the US and in the British Isles, Southern Scandinavia south to the Mediterranean, Black and Caspian Sea.

·         No breeding was observed in the southern area of the study.



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Also known as Egg Bird, Gaviota Monja Prieta, Fou Nwa, Sterne Noire, Twado, Touaou, Bonte Stern

SOTE, St Lucia, Lowrie, 2009

·         We first encountered Sooty Terns returning to their breeding grounds when sailing passed Dominica in April 2009. Large garrulous flocks of black and white birds spiralled and dived through the air far out at sea. It is unclear where they spend the non breeding season, potentially the Pacific and off the coast of the USA.

·         They are highly pelagic, migrating long distances (breeding birds from Florida have been found to migrate to the Western Coast of Africa).

·         It is generally thought that they remain on the wing between breeding seasons, as they have a poorly developed oil gland that prevents them from alighting on the sea. This is likely to be aided by their long wingspan and short body allowing long periods of soaring and low-cost energy-saving flight.

SOTE, St Lucia, Lowrie, 2009

·         We observed over one thousand birds on the Maria Major Island of St Lucia, they were not yet breeding, but showing signs of preparation; mating and alighting in likely breeding areas and gathering nesting materials. Other important islands for the species in the study area are Petit Canouan, St Vincent Grenadines and Dog Island, Anguilla.

·         The birds selected a range of nesting sites on the island; from exposed grassy areas or boulders to under cacti and other vegetation, but always on the ground.

·         They usually lay one egg per breeding season, but will relay if the egg or chick is lost.

·         They are very similar in appearance to Bridle Terns, but are a little larger, lack a white hind neck, do not have the Bridled Tern’s white line which extends from the forehead to behind the eye and are blacker above.



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Brown-winged Tern, Booby, Egg Bird, Dog Tern, Smaller Sooty Tern


BRTE, ST Vincent, Lowrie, 2009


·         We first encountered breeding Bridled Terns in the Grenadines in May. Like the other species of terns (save the Royal Tern) they are not resident in the Lesser Antilles, only returning to breed.

·         Bridled Terns have a puppy like ‘yerk’ call. They are not as vocal as the Sooty Terns, whose colonies resound with calls, particularly when they are disturbed from their nest during surveys.

·         Bridled and Sooty Terns often nest together in colonies, although the Bridled Terns are usually fewer in number.

BRTE, St Vincent, Lowrie, 2009

·         Bridled Terns are said to have an ‘elastic flight’, with shallow, slower wing beats than Sooty Terns.

·         Their nests are often difficult to find- under a rock over-hang or rocky crevice. The nest is a scrape, with one buff-grey egg mottled with fine brown spots.

·         When foraging, they dip towards the water surface, with short plunge dives.



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Also known as Mackeral Gull, Graceful Tern

ROTE, St Vincent, Lowrie, 2009


·         We first saw Roseate Terns fishing along the coastline of St Vincent and perched on a small island off the country in May. Subsequently we have seen them in the Grenadines nesting.

·         They are extremely agile, ‘butterfly’ terns, appearing very white from a distance, with their long, deeply forked tails.

·         We have typically found them fishing in rough water, at the edge of islands, diving from 2-3 metres into churning, nutrient rich up-wellings.

·         The Caribbean species do not have the pinkish underbelly flush of the North Atlantic Roseate Terns and only the tip of the bill of the Caribbean birds is black (the rest being red).

·         They have fast, deep wingbeats.


ROTE, St Vincent, Lowrie, 2009


·         The voice is a high- pitched, rasping ‘aaak’ and soft ‘chivy’.

·         Whole colonies may shift between nesting sites in different years, possibly as a result of human disturbance.



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Also known as Blackbird, Booby Blackbird, Gaviota Boba, Cevero, Catbird, Moien, Noddi Brun.


BRNO, Collier

·         As with the terns and gulls, Brown Noddies do not return to breed in the Lesser Antilles until the Summer. We recorded them in association with Sooty Terns on Maria Major Island, St Lucia.

·         They will nest in trees, constructing elaborate nests out of twigs and sea grass or on rock ledges or crevices where they decorate the nest sparingly with shells, pebbles and feathers.

·         They are monogamous, with the female laying a single, large egg (c.19% of her body mass).

·         Male Brown Noddies are larger than females in all body measurements.

BRNO and SOTE, St Lucia, Lowrie, 2009

·         The photo shows the difference in size between Brown Noddies and Sooty Terns. It also shows the small body size compared to wing of the Sooty Tern compared to the Brown Noddy.



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Raffaele, H., Wiley, J., Garrido, O., Keith, A., and Raffaele, J. (eds.) 1998. Birds of the West Indies. Christopher Helm Ltd.

Schreiber, E.A. & Burger, J. (eds.) 2002. Biology of Marine Birds. CRC Press LLC.

Schreiber, E.A. & Lee, D.S. (eds.) 2000. Status and Conservation of West Indian Seabirds. Society of Caribbean Ornithology, Special Publication Number 1.



Collier, Natalia and Brown, Adam. Founders and Presidents of EPIC. Initiated and commissioned the Seabird Breeding Atlas of the Lesser Antilles.

Friesen, Megan. Intern on the Lesser Antilles Seabird Survey.

Lowrie, Katharine and Lowrie David. Project Field Manager and Captain/Surveyor... and you know the rest.

Trefry, Sarah. PhD candidate New Brunswick University, Canada. Studying Magnificent Frigatebirds on Barbuda.