Mice begin eating adult albatrosses on remote British island

Sarah Knapton
Mice gang up to attack albatrosses and their chicks on Gough Island  -

Critically endangered albatrosses are facing extinction after mice brought to British overseas territories began attacking adult birds.

New video footage released by the RSPB from Gough Island in the South Atlantic shows a mouse targeting a Tristan albatross on its nest, the first time the behaviour has been documented.

It was already known that mice were attacking the more vulnerable chicks, but experts say the new problem could spell the end for the species. 

The chicks are particularly vulnerable because they are left alone  Credit: M Jones RSPB

Chris Jones, Senior Gough Field Assistant said: “We have known for more than a decade that the mice on Gough Island attack and kill seabird chicks. 

“While this is already of great concern, attacks on adults, which can produce dozens of chicks in their lifetime, could be devastating for the populations’ chances of survival. survival of these long-lived seabirds. 

“It’s a terrible development, and these gentle giants could now be lost even more rapidly than we first predicted.”

Gough Island, a UK World Heritage Site in the South Atlantic is considered one of the most important seabird colonies in the world, hosting more than ten million birds. 

The chicks are unable to fight off the gangs of mice and are often eaten alive  Credit: Ben Dilly RSPB

There are 24 species of bird that nest on the island, 22 of which are seabirds.

Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors to the remote island during the 19th century and now survive by eating the eggs and chicks of as many as 19 different species of bird. 

The Tristan albatross is critically endangered with around 2,000 pairs remaining in the wild, 99 per cent of which live on Gough Island. The albatross population is particularly vulnerable because their chicks are left alone in winter. 

Video cameras placed alongside nests show that gangs of mice, often in groups of up to nine, attack the birds and chicks and eat them alive.

Albatrosses mate for life, producing just one egg every other year and experts say the loss of adult birds will accelerate their extinction.