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St Helena, Ascension Island & Tristan da Cunha

St Helena Plover (Wirebird) Charadius sanctaehelenae

Birding St Helena & Islands

Saint Helena (named after St Helena of Constantinople) is an island of volcanic origin and a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic Ocean. The territory consists of the island of Saint Helena, and the dependencies of Ascension Island and Tristan da Cunha.

Saint Helena island has a total area of 122 km2 (47 mi2), and is composed largely of rugged, volcanic terrain. There are several rocks and islets off the coast, including: Castle Rock, Speery Island, The Needle, Lower Black Rock, Upper Black Rock (South), Bird Island (Southwest), Black Rock, Thompson's Valley Island, Peaked Island, Egg Island, Lady's Chair, Lighter Rock (West), Long Ledge (Northwest), Shore Island, George Island, Rough Rock Island, Flat Rock (East), The Buoys, Sandy Bay Island, The Chimney, White Bird Island and Frightus Rock (Southeast), all of which are within one kilometre of the shore. The centre of Saint Helena is covered by forest, of which some has been planted, including the new Millennium Forest Project. The temperature is also two to three degrees cooler in the highlands, and it has heavier and more reliable rainfall than the rest of the island. It contains most of the island's endemic flora, fauna, insects and birds. The coastal areas are barren, covered in volcanic rock and are warmer and drier than the centre of the island.

When the island was discovered, it was covered with unique (indigenous) vegetation, including the remarkable cabbage tree species of St Helena. The flora of St Helena contains a high proportion of endemic species, i.e., those found nowhere else. The island's hinterland must have been a dense tropical forest but the coastal areas were probably quite green as well. The modern landscape is very different, with widespread bare rock in the lower areas, although inland it is green, mainly due to introduced vegetation. The dramatic change in landscape must be attributed to the introduction of goats and the introduction of new vegetation. As a result, the string tree (Acalypha rubrinervis) and the St Helena olive (Nesiota elliptica) are now extinct, and many of the other endemic plants are threatened with extinction.

The island is associated with two other isolated landmasses in southern Atlantic, also British territories - Ascension Island to the north in an equatorial position and Tristan da Cunha, which is outside the tropics to the south.

Saint Helena is one of the most isolated places in the world, located more than 2000 km (1200 mi) from the nearest major landmass. As there is currently no airport on Saint Helena, travel to the island is by ship only. The RMS Saint Helena berths in James Bay approximately thirty times per year. The ship calls on such other ports as Cape Town, Ascension Island, Tenerife, Vigo, Walvis Bay and Isle of Portland, UK.

Saint Helena is not now a major breeding site for seabirds as Ascension is, but it used to have more endemic birds, all but one of which are now extinct. The Wirebird Charadrius sanctaehelenae is a type of plover which lives in burrows around the island, and is the national bird. It is called the Wirebird due to its thin legs that look like wire. Extinct birds on the island include the Large Saint Helena Petrel, Small Saint Helena Petrel, Saint Helena Crake, Saint Helena Swamphen, Saint Helena Dove, Saint Helena Cuckoo and, most famously, the Giant Hoopoe.

Ascension Island Ascension Island is an isolated volcanic island in the equatorial waters of the South Atlantic Ocean, around a thousand miles from the coast of Africa and 1400 miles from the coast of South America, which is roughly midway between the horn of South America and Africa. It is primarily a military base, but access has recently improved and the island makes a fascinating destination for seabird enthusiasts. The islands used to be home to many breeding seabirds; most are now all but extinct on the main island, and the main breeding site is on nearby rat-free Boatswain Bird Island. Over 10,000 birds breed on this tiny island, which is home to Ascension Frigatebirds, Red-footed, Brown and Masked Boobies, Red-billed and White-tailed Tropicbirds (known as Boatswain Birds), and petrels. The Sooty Tern, known locally as the Wideawake Tern because of its distinctive call, is the most common breeding seabird on the main island, and the airport is named after it. The Ascension Rail is extinct.

Tristan da Cunha has the number of birds on a par with Ascension. Inaccessible Island and Gough Island are together a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a wildlife reserve due to the large number of breeding seabirds found there, including endemics. The birds include the Wandering Albatross, Atlantic Yellow-nosed Albatross, Rockhopper Penguin, Great Shearwater, Antarctic Tern and Tristan Thrush. The Inaccessible Island Rail, the world's smallest living flightless bird, is endemic to Inaccessible Island. The Tristan Albatross is also native to the islands of Tristan da Cunha, as well as the Atlantic Petrel.



GNU Free Documentation License


Number of Species

National Bird: St Helena Plover (Wirebird) Charadius sanctaehelenae

Number of bird species: 69

(As at September 2018)


Number of endemics: 1

St Helena Plover (Wirebird) Charadius sanctaehelenae


iGoTerra Checklist

iGoTerra Checklist

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Useful Reading

A Guide to the Birds of St Helena and Ascension Island

By Neil McCulloch | RSPB | 2004 | Paperback | 92 Pages, Colour Illustrations |

ISBN: 1901930467

Buy this book from NHBS.com

St Helena and Ascension Island: A Natural History

by Philip & Myrtle Ashmole | Anthony Nelson | 2000 | Hardback | 475 pages, 32 pp colour illustrations, line drawings, maps, diagrams, cased |

ISBN: 0904614611

Buy this book from NHBS.com

The Birds of St Helena

by Beau W Rowlands | BOU | 1998 | Hardback | 295 pages, 50 colour photos, maps |

ISBN: 0907446205

Buy this book from NHBS.com


African Bird Club - Ascension Island


Lying in the equatorial South Atlantic, Ascension Island is a UK Overseas Territory and a dependency of the "neighbouring" island of St Helena. Although it is primarily a military base, access has recently improved and the island makes a fascinating destination for seabird enthusiasts...

African Bird Club - St Helena


The UK Overseas Territory of St Helena is one of the most remote inhabited islands in the world and consequently has been relatively little visited by ornithologists. Prior to the colonial period, the island supported a surprising diversity of endemic bird species paralleled by large-scale endemism amongst invertebrates and plants…

African Bird Club - Tristan da Cunha


There are two main groups of islands off southern Africa: the Tristan da Cunha archipelago and Gough Island (dependencies of Saint Helena which is an overseas territory of the United Kingdom) in the central South Atlantic, and the Prince Edward Islands (administered by South Africa) in the south-west Indian Ocean. Further south lie Bouvet and the Antarctic continent, which support even fewer species, but these include several spectacular and sought-after birds. Together, more than 50 species of seabirds breed in the African sector of the Southern Ocean, and several other species regularly visit these waters.

Saint Helena National Trust


The Saint Helena National Trust is an independent not-for-profit organization which aims to preserve Saint Helena’s environmental and cultural heritage. It was founded on 22 May 2002, the 500th anniversary of Saint Helena’s discovery. The Patron of the Trust is HRH The Duke of York. With Honorary Members: Mrs Jessica March MBE and the late Mr George Benjamin BEM

Tristan da Cunha Programme


Rats have destroyed many great seabird colonies around the world, after introduction by humans. On the main island of Tristan da Cunha the once vast colonies of petrels are now reduced to tiny remnants. On Gough Island, researchers have discovered that Gough’s house mice have learned to attack and kill seabird chicks, even huge Tristan albatross chicks. This predation is widespread and devastating. Tristan albatrosses and Atlantic petrels are declining fast. Fortunately, two other islands (Nightingale and Inaccessible) remain rodent-free and it is vital they remain so – they are havens for seabirds and endemic land birds such as the rarest “British” bird, the Wilkins’ bunting which is found only on Nightingale, and the world’s smallest flightless bird, the Inaccessible rail. Tristan albatross, Gough bunting, Gough moorhen, Atlantic yellow-nosed albatross, spectacled petrel, Tristan thrush, Inaccessible bunting, Wilkins’ bunting, sooty albatross, Atlantic petrel


Abbreviations Key

Ascension Island Ocean Sanctuary


Given Ascension's globally significant marine biodiversity, the RSPB is calling for the creation of an Ocean Sanctuary around the island to protect its rich waters. This is one of the only opportunities for a large-scale and fully-protected marine area anywhere in the tropical Atlantic. Unlike the Indian and Pacific Oceans, the neglected Atlantic currently has no large and fully-protected marine reserves.

IBA Boatswain Bird Island


Satellite View

Boatswain Bird Island, also spelt Boatswainbird Island, is a small island some 270 m off the east coast of Ascension Island in the South Atlantic Ocean with an area of approximately 5.3 ha (13 acres). It is administered from Georgetown on Ascension, which is part of Saint Helena, Ascension and Tristan da Cunha, an overseas territory of the United Kingdom. Boatswain Bird Island should not be confused with the nearby, much smaller, Boatswain Bird Rock. The island has been identified as an Important Bird Area (IBA) by BirdLife International as a breeding site for seabirds. Birds for which the IBA is significant include Madeiran storm petrels (1500 breeding pairs), red-billed tropicbirds (500 pairs), white-tailed tropicbirds (1000 pairs), Ascension frigatebirds (6000 pairs), masked boobies (1300 pairs) and black noddies (5000 pairs).

National Conservation Areas


St Helena has designated 23 National Conservation Areas (NCAs) under the Land Development Control Plan. The NCAs are split into four types: National Parks (3); Nature Reserves (6); Important Wirebird Areas (5) and Historic Conservation Areas (9). The Environmental Management Division (EMD) will be leading the development of plans to guide the management of the 14 ‘natural’ NCAs i.e the National Parks, Nature Reserves and Important Wirebird Areas.

NP Green Mountain


Satellite View

The resulting cloud forest (Wilkinson 2004 and Gray 2004), is a mosaic of plants from a variety of habitats including woodland, grassland, and shrubland. The ecosystem that has emerged is interesting for its almost entirely artificial nature as a result of the interactions between the introduced species from a variety of disparate climates and locations...

Trip Reports

Click on WAND for tours, guides, lodges and more…


Trip Report Repository

CloudBirders was created by a group of Belgian world birding enthusiasts and went live on 21st of March 2013. They provide a large and growing database of birding trip reports, complemented with extensive search, voting and statistical features.

2011 [05 May] - Derek Scott - Atlantic Cruise

PDF Report

…Our journey of 7,111 nautical miles (13,170 km) from Ushuaia in Tierra del Fuego to Santiago in the Cape Verde Islands, via the Antarctic Sound, South Georgia, Gough, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena and Ascension, gave us an unparalleled opportunity to observe the multitude of sea-birds and cetaceans in the Southern Ocean and Atlantic, and took us to some of the remotest islands on the planet….

2014 [04 April] - Simon Cook

PDF Report

The long journey to Tristan da Cunha via Stanley, Falkland I slands * ( Cattle Egret , Magellanic Penguin , Turkey Vulture , Southern Caracara and Variable Hawk ) brought many more seabirds , including our first Sooty , Atlantic Yellow - nosed and Tristan A lbatross es , Great , Sooty and Sub - Antarctic Little Shearwater s , Slender - billed Prion, Atlantic, Soft - plu maged, Grey, Spectacled and Great - w inged P etrels, Broad - billed Prion, South Polar Skua , White - faced and Whit e - bellied Storm - P etrel s plus Long - tailed Skua. Marine mammals included Hourglass , Dusky and Peale’s Dolphin s , pilot whale sp. , Gray’s Beaked Whale , Hector’s Beaked Whale and a Blue Whale . ATLANTIC ODYSSEY ON BOARD m/v PLANCIUS Ship and Z odiac cruising plus two landings at the Tristan archipelago produced all the breeding seabirds plus Killer Whales , probable Shepherd’s Beaked Whales , Sub - Antarctic Fur Seal , Northern Rockhopper Penguin , Sa lvin’s Albatross , Tristan Thrush , Nightingale Bunting and the critically endangered Grosbeak Bunting . Great Shearwaters and a lmost ready - to - fledge Yellow - nosed Albatross chicks were also seen on Nightingale Island...

2017 [04 April] - Wildwings

PDF Report

Leaving most of the southern tubenoses behind, we next set course for St. Helena. The number of species seen declined rapidly but there were still new things to note: Strap-toothed Whale and Flying Squid among them. The approach to the island and trips on a local boat rewarded us with a Whale Shark , Pantropical Spotted and Bottlenose Dolphins , Red-billed Tr o p i c b i r d , Brown and Masked Booby , Brown and Black Noddy , a few Sooty Terns and White Tern . The soon-to-be-named “ St. Helena” Storm- petrel was seen in large numbers at Egg Island and many St. Helena Plovers were on Deadwood Plain.


Museum of St Helena


The origin of the Museum of St Helena begins in 1854 with the opening of St Helena Museum; among its contents were a sea serpent and a flying lizard!

Other Links

St Helena and Ascension Island Natural History


The islands of St Helena and Ascension are two of the most isolated islands in the world - the tips of enormous volcanoes rising from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean. St Helena was formed some 14 million years ago, but Ascension is only a tenth as old. On St Helena, plants and animals have evolved and diversified in isolation for millions of years and the landscape has been transformed.. In contrast, the ecological youth of Ascension leaves it strange and forbidding, but with its own biological surprises and its own austere beauty…