Successful cohabitation of tropicbirds and climbers

The White-tailed Tropicbird, emblematic of the Reunion Island, has been dislodged from its usual nesting areas. Indeed, the cliffs where they used to nest were partially covered with wire netting due to falling rocks. Today the White-tailed Tropicbird nests in climbing sites. Along with climbers, the nature conservationists of the Reunion Island are seeking sites suitable for the White-tailed tropicbird to nest in. A project supported by the Petzl Foundation to promote coexistence between birds and climbers.


Tropicbird in Reunion Island © Yabalex Tropicbird, an emblematic bird of the Reunion Island


  • Project partner:  Société d’Etudes Ornithologiques de La Réunion,
  • Country:  France, Reunion Island
  • Project type: Preservation of the environment
  • Budget: €9,000 from 2011 to 2013
© Inveneo

The Ornithological Studies Society of the Reunion Island (SEOR), in partnership with the Regional Committee of the French Federation of Mountaineering and Climbing (FFME) are committed to reconcile the preservation of the White-tailed Tropicbird with climbing..

Together to preserve

The Reunion Island is renowned for its dramatic landscapes which attract people who enjoy extreme sports. Climbing and canyoning are very popular. However these activities can compete with the conservation of natural habitats and species such as the White-tailed Tropicbird, which symbolizes the tropical islands for Reunion Island's population and visitors.

SEOR and FFME will bring together sportsmen and women, nature lovers and local people around the conservation of biodiversity and outdoor recreation. Sharing natural areas is a great example that coexistence between climbers and wildlife is possible!

Tropicbirds © Collection SEOR

Sharing cliffspace for climbing and nesting

To maintain a leisure activity while allowing the birds to breed quietly on climbing sites, SEOR and FFME have drawn up several action plans. Several "buffer" zones have been created away from climbing routes and artificial nesting boxes have been installed, to encourage reproduction without any risk of disturbance. To do this, local climbers have been asked to put their skills to the service of the White-tailed Tropicbird.

Climbers will have to adapt their climbing, first by not using the routes, which disturb the birds during nesting periods, and secondly, by creating new routes further away from nesting areas. A reconciliation, which will be rewarded by the privilege of climbing the Reunion Island cliffs in the company of the White-tailed Tropicbird! The project also has considerable support from the general public.

couple of tropicbirds © Collection SEOR

Installing artificial nesting boxes

artificial nesting boxes

Nesting boxes are designed to limit the risk of attack by rats and to resist heat and cyclones; they are made to imitate the lava tubes often chosen by the species and blend into the cliff faces. In November 2011, 4 nesting boxes were installed by FFME qualified climbers, who supervised all rope operations. In 2012, the project was deployed in two more sites.

artificial nesting boxes artificial nesting boxes
artificial nesting boxes artificial nesting boxes

François Xavier Couzi, SEOR director, says:

François Xavier Couzi "I'm a nature lover and spend a lot of time observing the birds from the ground.
For the White-tailed tropicbird project, supported by the SEOR and the Reunion FFME, I found myself way up in the air...
I learned the basics of climbing and, more specifically, rope descent techniques. Making an inventory of the natural cavities of the cliff, prospecting possible sites and installing the nesting boxes were incredibly moving, adrenaline-stoked moments for me!"

The White-tailed Tropicbird

Tropicbird © Yabalex Scientific name: Phaethon lepturus
Features: This large bird of warm seas has a white plumage with black lines, very long tail feathers made of two very fine white straws which trail elegantly behind the bird in flight. Its bill is yellow.
Size: 61 cm (almost 1 m with the strands) for a wingspan of 112 cm.
Diet: It feeds on small fish.
Habitat: This marine bird comes ashore only to nest. Along the Reunion Island cliffs it nests in the multiple crevices of the basaltic rocks. It lays a single egg between October and December, which is incubated by both parents for a month and a half. The chick leaves the nest at the age of 3 or 4 months in late spring.
Threats: coastal developments destroy their nesting sites; tourist traffic to these sites also causes a disturbance during the breeding season. The gathering of eggs for human consumption and predators such as rats, cats and dogs also threaten the species.

For more information:

The Ornithological Studies Society of the Reunion Island, an non-profit organization founded in 1997, aims to protect birds on the Reunion Island. SEOR received the approval of Environmental Protection.

Updated in september 2014



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