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The sea-birds on the French Polynesian atolls 

André Intès


Gygis alba

Nesting sea-birds


Red-footed Booby          Sula sula  L.          ua’ao

Red-footed Boobies frequently nest on the atolls, forming colonies of up to more than 100 pairs. They build their nests at all possible heights in bushes, shrubs and trees. The reproductive season tends to spread over the whole year.  Sula sula  L.ua’ao.  

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On Tikehau, 3 colonies consisting of about 120 pairs in all were watched and provided with dry Pisonia branches.   


Brown Booby                Sula leucogaster  Boddaert           kena

Although this species nest on the Tuamotu atolls, they are never present in very large numbers. Their roughly-constructed nests are to be found on the ground, near the sea. On Tikehau, a few individuals are frequently seen flying over the lagoon and sometimes stop there to rest, but no sign of a brown gannet's nest has ever been detected on this atoll.  


Great Frigatebird           Fregata minor  Gmelin         ‘otaha

The great frigatebird lives and reproduces on several atolls, but there are rarely more than a few dozen mates on a given atoll. The nests are built on the upper branches of trees and bushes. A separate group of fifteen or so individuals was observed on Tikehau in October 1984, but no signs of nest-building were detected.


Lesser Frigatebird       Fregata ariel  Gray  

Little information is available about this species in the Polynesian atolls. The members of this species nest under the same conditions as the great frigate, but when there is cohabitation between the two species, the ariel frigate's nests are always located at lower levels than those of the great frigate. This species can be seen frequently on Tikehau, where it presumably nests. Fifty or so individuals were counted on that atoll in October 1984.


Grey-backed Tern                Sterna lunata  Peale         oreore

These terns nest on the atolls in colonies of several hundreds of individuals. They feed near the shores, and rarely out on the open seas. A small isolated colony of fifty or so adults living completely apart from all other bird species was discovered on Tikehau in October 1984.


Sooty Tern              Sterna fuscata  Linné           kaveka

The members of this species nest on all the archipelagos of eastern Polynesia, where they are probably the most common species. Large colonies of sooty terns have been reported to inhabit the various atolls, and yet no trace of their nests has ever been found on Tikehau. These birds tend to feed out on the open seas, where they can be frequently seen. The Paumotu people consider their eggs to be a great delicacy.


Great Crested Tern                   Sterna bergii  Lichtenstein            tara

Although this species nests in the atolls, it is to be found in only a few places. The crested stern feed in lagoons and shallow coastal waters, and are therefore rarely to be seen out at sea. Two small colonies consisting of 20 and 28 adults were spotted on Tikehau in October 1984.  


Blue-gray Noddy                 Procelsterna coerulea  F.D. Bennett

The blue noddy is known to nest on the Tuamotu atolls, but very few of its nesting places have ever been detected. The nests are sometimes located near the water's edge, but they have also been found further inland. This species is reluctant to leave these islands, where it likes to nest and feed. Only a few individuals have been regularly observed on Tikehau, however, and no nests built by these birds have ever been found there.


Brown Noddy               Anous stolidus L.                 ‘oio

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The brown noddy nests on most of the atolls, and large colonies are to be found living far from the places of human activity. These birds sometimes feed in the lagoon waters, but seem to prefer fishing out on the open seas, in large groups consisting of several species. The presence of these groups enables the Paumotu fishermen to locate the shoals of fish.

This is one of the most abundant nesting species on Tikehau, where approximately 800 nests were counted. The nests are broad and flat: they are built on trees and shrubs of various kinds, and very occasionally on the ground.  


Black Noddy                 Anous tenuirostris  Temminck           ‘oio

The black noddy also nests on many of the atolls. Three colonies of 800 nests in all were observed by bird-watchers on Tikehau: their numbers are therefore similar to those of the brown noddy. However, the nests of this species differ from those of the brown noddy, since they are small and bowl-shaped, and made with the leaves of Pisonia grandis, the trees in which the colonies build their nests. The main feeding-grounds of this species seems to be the coastal and lagoon waters.


Common Fairy Tern              Gygis alba  Sparrman            ‘itata’e

Common Fairy Tern are extremely common in Polynesia, and occur in large numbers on the most uninhabited and sparsely inhabited islands. These birds nest either separately or in colonies on the atolls, in trees without actually building any nests. The reproductive period is spread out over the whole year. The white tern often feed out on the open seas, several kilometres from the coast. The fishermen know them to be reliable indicators to the presence of fish.    

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On Tikehau, approximately a thousand individuals were counted, including about 500 reproductive adults. They are to be found everywhere on the atoll.


Kermadec Petrel            Pterodroma neglecta  Schlegel

Based on the accounts available, some Kermadec petrel are to be found living on the atolls, especially in the south-eastern Tuamotu. They have been seen nesting on the atoll of Maria on the ground, under the bushes. This is a pelagic species most of the time, apart from the reproductive season.


Murphy's Petrel           Pterodroma ultima Murphy

Murphy's petrel have been reported to nest on Mururoa and Fangataufa, and they may possibly nest on other islands as well. The nest is simply a hollow in the sand or a space hollowed out in the bushes. This is a pelagic species, except during the reproductive period.


Red-tailed Tropicbird      Phaeton rubricauda Boddaert        tava’e , ma'uroa


This species nests on the Tuamotu atolls, but the numbers amount to only a few hundred of pairs per island. These birds form colonies on beaches. They tend to feed out on the open seas, several tens of kilometres from  the colonies in which they live.  


Masked Booby                    Sula dactylatra Lesson               kena

The Masked Booby, of which there are very few on the atolls, tend to nest mainly on uninhabited islands and islets. Their nests are made of earth and twigs. This species is mainly to be found on the south-eastern Tuamotu atolls.



Visitors to the atolls


Pomarine Jaeger                     Stercorarius pomarinus  Temminck

The Pomarine Jaeger is an extremely rare visitor to Polynesia: a specimen analysed in 1921 showed that it once visited this part of the world, however. A single individual was then reported to have been seen on Tikehau in October 1984, flying near the reef towards the pass.


Tahiti Petrel      Pterodroma rostrata  Peale               noha

Tahiti petrel nest only on the volcanic islands of Polynesia in burrows dug out at high altitudes. These birds can often be seen far out at sea, several tens of kilometres from their nesting sites, and sometimes they reach the waters surrounding the atolls.

Wandering Albatross        Diomedea exulans L.

The Wandering Albatross has been seen only very occasionally in Polynesia, but the fact that this bird does visit the atolls was confirmed  when a dead bird was found on Taiaro in 1971 and identified as a great albatros.


Royal albatross           Diomedea epomorpha Lesson

The royal albatross is another very infrequent visitor to the atolls, but here again, a dead bird found on Tematangi in 1970 was found to belong to this species.


Black-browed albatross      Diomedea melanophris Temminck

The fact that two tagged members of this species were found on Arutua and Tekokoto shows that these birds may occasionally visit the Polynesian atolls.


Anarctic Giant Petrel              Macronectes giganteus  Gmelin

Anarctic Giant Petrel frequently land on the atolls during the southern summer, but in most cases, these birds are exhausted by their travels and those which are found are either dead or dying. This species has been observed on the island of Hao.


Gould's petrel                           Pterodroma leucoptera  Gould

These petrel have been seen on very occasionally around the atolls, but according to two particularly trustworthy reports, they have visited the Tuamotu atolls on two different occasions.


Short-tailed Shearwater              Puffinus tenuirostris  Temminck

A specimen identified as belonging to this species was collected on the Tuamotu atolls back in 1906.

mise à jour : 10/07/2008