Seventeen species of breeding seabirds can be found nesting in huge colonies on many of the islands in the Chagos archipelago, and 10 of the islands have received formal designation as Important Bird Areas by Birdlife International. This means that Chagos has the most diverse breeding seabird community within this tropical region.
Of particular interest are the large colonies of sooty terns (Sterna fuscata), brown and lesser noddy’s (Anous stolidus and A. tenuirostris), wedge-tailed shearwaters (Puffinus pacificus) and red-footed boobies (Sula sula). Rat colonies on several of the islands cause problems with ground-nesting species, and habitat restoration (including removal of the rats) will be an important part of the management of the Chagos Marine Reserve.
The red-footed is the smallest of the booby family, with a fully developed wing span of around 4 ½ ft. However, this doesn’t stop this fish-eating bird from flying long distances before dive bombing into the sea with its streamlined body to swallow its prey whole. Although they spend their winters at sea, red-footed boobies can be found nesting on the Chagos atolls during the summer months, as well as other locations in their subtropical Atlantic and Pacific ranges. These birds take on a variety of colour morphs, both between their life stages and individuals, but all can be characterised by bright red feet. They make up for a low reproductive rate (laying just one egg) by living for more than 20 years, provided they can avoid their main threats of habitat loss and depleted prey stocks due to overfishing.