Bird Island


By Elizabeth Vawter
Bird Island is one of the many motus that surround the atoll of Suwarrow National Park in the Cook Islands of the South Pacific. This island has a cloud of birds that come there to nest every year. A rough estimate of the number of birds is five hundred thousand. We were very lucky to have the chance to visit this island, also known as Manu Island. “Manu” means bird in the local language. We were, in fact, the only boat who got to go to this island this whole year. So, seize your chances!
Harry and John, the two kind Park Rangers who took us, needed to inspect the bird population and that was our chance to go along. Sooty Terns, Redfooted Boobies, Magnificent and Lesser Frigates, Noddys and Redtailed Tropic birds come to this island to nest. The sound of all the birds combined could break your ear drums. The Tropic birds are very rare to see on this island. Sooty Tern eggs are scattered all the way around the island on the ground. The Sooty Terns are everywhere and you need to make sure not to step on the eggs because there are so many. They blend into the dead coral rocks with their purple splotches on their white egg shells. Harry told us that they can fly for six months without stopping for a rest.
Red Footed Booby babies are white and poufy when they are young, but they get black feathers when they get old. The frigate bird babies are very alike, but some of the newly hatched babies look like ugly, but cute, plucked chickens. They nest in the tall bushes and trees. If you get too close to a very young baby the mother will grab the baby, fly to a high height and drop the baby. We didn’t see this happen because we didn’t get too close.
For an island that has no inhabitance, Bird Island has lots of trash that has swept onto the island from the sea. We saw plastic water bottles, glass bottles, FAD’s (fish attracting devices – rafts used to provide shade and habitat for fish…so people can catch them), rope and lots of awful plastic garbage. So, when you buy single use plastic or you put something in the trash, think about where it is going to go first. Otherwise, if you go to Suwarrow, I hope you have a chance to visit Bird Island.




  1. Jan J says:

    Thanks for sharing Isa – sounds amazing… I am trying to picture the rangers telling you all about ‘their’ birds and being very thrilled to have such a receptive audience!

  2. Jennie C. says:

    What an amazing opportunity! It says lots that they trusted you to come with them. We can’t wait to see your pictures!!!

  3. Barbara Vawter says:

    Isa, I love your blog, birds are so fascinating, I love watching them. We discovered the sooty terns while on Heron Isalnd, such active loud birds, especially notable in the middle of the night. We thought the loud noises were children crying in the night only to discover it was the sooty tern birds. Thank you for sharing fun facts. Hugs to You and the family!

  4. Eric Berghorn says:

    Thanks for mentioning the plague of single use plastic and how we humans (and our forefathers) have successfully choked the planet with our throwaway trash. I was wondering how many times you had come across this on your journey ? Are ANY of the beaches, islands, cruise passages, etc. unaffected? I visited the Carribean island of Cayman Brac on vacation and found the same kind of beach trash accumulation there. Sad.

  5. Bruce McKenry says:

    Very interesting letter, Elizabeth. Thanks for telling us about such a great experience.
    Keep it up….you’re already writing better than I did in college!!!
    Love you,

  6. Karen says:

    Hi Isa what a great post! I love how you described everything so vividly, I can imagine you carefully exploring and trying not to step on eggs. We can’t wait to see the pictures. It’s sad to hear about the plastic, it’s a big problem. When you get a chance you should check out this website They launched their first cleanup mission on sept 8th and you can follow their reports on how it’s going. I’m hopeful they can make an impact. Love and miss you! Auntie Karen

  7. Karen Cakebread says:

    Isa, thanks for the informative post about Bird Island and its population. Sounds exotic and fun. I can’t wait to see pictures of this once-in-a-lifetime experience.

  8. Douglas Vawter says:

    Great Job Isa!! Very proud of you. What a great experience to see the birds in their natural habitat. We will start to think about our future waste when buying things. Enjoy your next island. Love to all, Gramps

  9. Marianne McGriff says:

    I LOVED your post…impressive!!!!!!!! I really appreciate all the information about the birds and waste…recently, I asked for a straw at TPC and they told me that they’re not giving them out anymore because of the turtles!!! I’m thinking…really!?!?! Maybe, there’s a correlation to the trash you saw on the island? What do you think? Please keep writing…love, Marianne

  10. Toya Huijon says:

    We Use to drink water from our faucet, and We still do it, No plastic bags for groceries, No paper plates and plastic cups, No straws, etc.. Love our Planet please. Thank you hermosa Familia Vawter for writing and made Us dreaming to visit all this beautiful places! Saludos and Big Xoxos

    Toya Huijon-Alcantar

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