Bermuda’s Treasure Island


In Bermuda, David Wingate saved one of the rarest seabirds from extinction, the Bermuda Petrel, or Cahow and at the same time restored the habitat of Nonsuch Island to its pre-colonial native state in order to provide a safe haven for Cahow. This the story of how one man can save a species and how habitat can be restored.



Step back in time to pre-colonial Bermuda on Nonsuch Island. This once-barren island was restored by one man, David Wingate, who planted 8,000 native trees and shrubs in order to create a suitable habitat for one of the rarest seabirds in the world, the Bermuda Petrel or Cahow. Nonsuch Island is now a refuge for all of Bermuda’s natve flora and fauna.

Bermuda’s legendary seabird, the Cahow, was thought to be extinct for over 300 years. It was rediscovered in 1951 on a few rocky islets where miraculusly it survived undetected over the centuries. See the Cahow, filmed for the very first time, return to Nonsuch Island.

This the story of how one man can save a species and how habitat can be restored.

English, 2005, 52 min

Production Company: Castletown Productions
Created and Produced by: Deirdre Brennan
Director: Eamon de Buitlear
Camera: Cian de Buitlear
Sound: Brendan Deasey
Editor: Paul Mullen
Script: Eamon de Buitlear and David Brennan

Additional information

Weight 0.32 lbs
Dimensions 9 × 6 × 0.5 in
Pricing Options



  1. staffadmin

    Published: May 7. 2008

    Cahows return to Nonsuch

    By Rebecca Zuill

    Bermuda’s national bird has achieved a critical milestone with the first cahows in four centuries returning to the shores of Nonsuch Island.

    In recent weeks, the cahow has been observed by Government conservation officer Jeremy Madeiros prospecting for nesting sites on the 14-acre island, a nature reserve that has been almost completely returned to its endemic, pre-settlement state.

    It was in February that Mr. Madeiros first saw the cahows flying over Nonsuch Island. He had been on the island to make an equipment check.

    “The next thing I knew, I had cahows buzzing around. By 9.30 or 10 o’clock at night I had between six to eight cahows flying overhead, calling from one partner to another.

    “It’s exciting,” he said. “This is all new territory.”

    This development is a vital benchmark in the effort to rebuild the cahow population. Today, all cahows nest on the rocky and vulnerable islets of Castle Harbour, where they had lived entirely undetected for more than 300 years before their rediscovery in 1951.

    The news of the cahows’ return to Nonsuch has already hit the international birding media, and as a result New York film-maker Deirdre Brennan, who produced the cahow documentary Treasure Island, is in Bermuda this week filming an internet video about these recent developments.

    Environmentalist and former conservation officer Dr. David Wingate gave half a century of effort to rebuilding the cahow population from the 18 nesting pairs that were left at the time of their rediscovery. Jeremy Madeiros, who became the conservation officer upon Dr. Wingate’s retirement, has been involved with the project for more than two decades.

    Dr. Wingate said yesterday: “I could not have foreseen this as happening until less than five years ago – it seemed beyond likelihood.” He said the cahows return to Nonsuch Island is significant because they have only survived so far thanks to the intervention and help of man – without which the birds would have dwindled into extinction.

    Dr. Wingate and Mr. Madeiros have maintained and constructed their nesting burrows and kept close tabs on their progress. Now that the cahows have returned to Nonsuch, they can live in their natural habitat, digging burrows in the soil, and climbing trees from which they launch themselves into the air to fly.

    At least four of the petrels have landed on the more extensive and substantial shores of Nonsuch Island this breeding season, and Mr. Madeiros has watched as some of these birds have sought nesting sites.

    Typically, the young male cahow will claim a nesting site or dig a new one during the season. The following season, he will seek a mate.

    The birds have returned to this island because they had been translocated there as chicks by Mr. Madeiros and his team three years ago.

    The conservation officer had been planning the translocation project after witnessing the damage caused by Hurricanes Felix and Gert in the 1990s. He travelled to Australia and trained with the Australian Wildlife Service, who along with the wildlife professionals in New Zealand had pioneered translocation techniques.

    “There, I was taught to handle birds and to band them, and so forth,” he said.

    The small rocky outcrops where cahows currently make their home had suffered severe erosion during Hurricane Fabian, leading Mr. Madeiros to fear that these birds would be left with a critically reduced nesting area should another hurricane the magnitude of Fabian strike Bermuda – and that eventuality is almost guaranteed.

    “And with global warming – it is a reality and we will see it in our lifetime – if even a quarter of the predicted sea level rise occurs, the cahows would no longer be able to nest on some of these islands. To really save the species we needed to take this step.”

    As a result, the conservation officer launched the cahow translocation programme early, which meant moving onto Nonsuch Island more than a dozen chicks that were nearly ready to fledge. Cahows and many other species of petrel tend to return to nest near or even in the same burrow they left as a fledgling.

    “This is such a milestone. Up to now, I wouldn’t have said we’d really saved the species. We’d bought it time – but they were living on borrowed time because the islands are crumbling and eroding fast.

    “But we can really say that the species is on the way back now!” Mr. Madeiros says he will really feel the efforts have been successful when the first chick is born. “If they follow the pattern that we have observed, we can expect to see the first chick next year or the year after. We just need that nucleus of three of four pairs. If the three or four birds that have landed here this year are successful in getting mates and return, then we will have a healthy population on Nonsuch. And the more birds, the healthier the population becomes!

    “Then, we just let the birds do their thing.”

    Dr. Wingate described the sense of satisfaction he feels now that the species he nurtured for half a century has taken such a big step.

    “It’s the end point I was working towards throughout my whole career – there is a sense of satisfaction that it’s happened in my lifetime,” Dr. Wingate said. “When I first moved out to Nonsuch and began the cahow project all those years ago, I couldn’t envisage the island having a mature, native forest – let alone cahows nesting in it.”

    And it’s appropriate for the 400th anniversary of the settlement of Bermuda,” he said, explaining the event celebrates the arrival of man, which in turn led to the demise of the cahow.”Now, 400 years later, the cahow is coming back.”

    The full story is found in this year’s Heritage Issue of rg magazine, which will be in tomorrow’s Royal Gazette. It is entitled ‘Life in Old Bermuda’, and concentrates on historical figures as well as ordinary people who lived and worked in Bermuda from the time of its settlement. They include the pilot James Darrell who was instrumental in Bermuda becoming the Gibraltar of the West, John Athill Frith, a first generation free black photographer whose life and work are being researched by Ron Lightbourne, Nathaniel Butterfield who founded Bermuda’s first bank and Georgiana Walker, the wife of the Confederate agent in Bermuda during the American Civil War who kept a journal recording her experiences and life here.

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