Boatswain Bird Island


Boatswain Bird Island is an island off the east coast of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean. There are thousands of inhabitants on this tiny island, all of which are birds, which give the island its white colour.
Amongst the many species of birds living there are Sooty Tern (or Wideawake birds due to a distinctive cry that sounds like they are saying ‘wideawake’), Boobies, Petrels, Noddies, Ascension Frigate birds and Boatswain birds.
There were once millions of sea birds on Ascension, however the accidental introduction of Rats and then Cats in 1815 led to many of the species being almost wiped out. Only some 3/4 of a million terns breed on traditional sites (or fairs).

Boatswain Bird island lies just off the east coast and is a flat topped sheer rock some 400 yards long and 300 feet high.
It is accessible via a rope ladder attached to a wooden gantry.

At one time in the twenties the guano deposits were worked by an English company and some of the remains of the venture still exist.
It is here the endemic Ascension Frigate Bird (Fregata aquila) lives, which survives by pirating other birds’ food especially the Boobies.

The Boobies present are the White (Sula Dactylatra) and the Brown (Sula Leucogasta). The Boobies are attractive birds and belong to the Gannet family.

A few Fairy Terns (Gygis alba) also nest on the cliffs. Ascension is famous for its Boatswain Birds, the Red-Billed (Phaethon aethereus) and the Yellow-Billed (Phaethon lepturus).
They have magnificent tail feathers, which are over half the length of their body.

A few Madeiran Petrel (Oceanodroma castra) nest on Boatswain Bird Island as well as Black Noddy (Arious tenuirestris) which is very similar to a Tern.
It is black with a white cap and is more common on St.Helena. There exists only four non-seabirds all of which have been introduced, The Waxbill (Estrilda astrild) usually seen in Georgetown as is the Common Myna (Acridotheres tristis). Canaries (Serinus flaviventris) were introduced in the 1860s.

A few Red-Legged Partridge (Pternistis afer) occur. Occasionally vagrants do occur usually something like Cattle Egrets (Bubulcus ibis). Since the mid 1990s there has been a feral cat eradication programme, along side a rat eradication programme, to encourage the birds back onto the mainland.
The importance of this programme is to maintain the numbers of some of the birds unique to Ascension, such as the Ascension Frigate birds and the Boatswain birds.


Guano was once recovered from Boatswain Bird Island. Men actually lived on Boatswain Bird for two of three days at a time, being supported by a base camp on Spire Beach. Each day a party would row across to the island with fresh supplies.

A small railway also existed on that island, so that guano could be moved to the edge and lowered directly into the company’s boat for transport back to English Bay. Water was obtained from the catchment on Weather Post. The operation was a large one, and the activity at English Bay certainly contrasted with the peace of Georgetown. The venture was not profitable and was abandoned.