Coquet Island seabirds seen avoiding bird flu sites


An RSPB warden on Coquet Island, Northumberland, says he has observed returning seabirds avoiding nesting areas which were wiped out by bird flu.

Ibrahim Alfarwi said this season's Sandwich Terns and Kittiwakes have shunned sites used as colonies last year, when the disease took hold.

Some 1,964 Sandwich Tern nests were lost on Coquet Island last year (Morgan Stephenson).

In 2022, breeding at the densely packed site was cut short when thousands of birds and almost 2,000 nests were lost as bird flu took hold. Mr Alfarwi, who has worked on Coquet Island since 2016, described the scale of suffering as "terrible to see". He spent weeks collecting and burying carcasses.

"We saw 1,964 Sandwich Tern nests lost last year, with almost 2,500 chicks dead at the main breeding spot. The terns came back late in the season and established another colony about 150 m away from the previously used spot and thankfully 73 chicks fledged. This year they have returned to the newer established colony."

He added that Kittiwakes had also "avoided the main colony" where so many birds were lost.

Although he concedes was "no scientific evidence" for the birds moving nesting locations he said it was "interesting" because in his experience terns appeared to show learned behaviour in the seabirds.