Twenty years ago, conservationists in New Zealand placed 80 fake gannet birds on Mana Island in an attempt to attract some real-life gannets. But only one bird finally showed up in 2015. That bird, which locals named Nigel, spent years in a futile effort to woo a mate who was made of concrete. But sadly, Nigel has been found dead next to his stone cold partner.
Conservationists were incredibly excited when Nigel arrived on the island in 2015, the first gannet to make Mana its home in 40 years. But Nigel’s story quickly turned depressing when it became clear that not only was Nigel tragically alone, but that he was trying to woo one of the concrete birds.
Nigel, perhaps the loneliest bird on Earth, even built a nest from seaweed, mud, and twigs for his concrete love. But his affection was never reciprocated, no matter how hard he tried. The relationship, and all his prattling, was doomed to remain one-sided to his death.
The Guardian reports that Chris Bell, a ranger for the New Zealand Department of Conservation, was the one who found Nigel’s body last week.
“I think it must have been quite a frustrating existence,” Bell told The Guardian. “Whether or not he was lonely, he certainly never got anything back, and that must have been very strange experience, when he spent years courting.”
“I think we all have a lot of empathy for him, because he had this fairly hopeless situation,” said Bell.
The story becomes even more tragic when you learn that three more gannets showed up on the island only recently. It seemed to be a Christmas miracle when the birds arrived on the island. But the other birds stayed on the opposite end of the colony, while Nigel (“no mates Nigel,” to be exact) was stuck with his concrete friends and stuck close to his immovable partner.
When the three birds first arrived Bell told the New Zealand Press Reader that Nigel “may be a weirdo” and that the other birds probably didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
“He definitely has some sort of fetish,” Bell said of Nigel’s futile attempt to woo his concrete partner. “It’s tragic.”
A conservationist group called Friends of Mana Island has been posting video of Nigel for years, and you can even see the work they’ve done painting fake bird poo in their efforts to attract more than just Nigel to the island.
Friends of Mana Island penned a poem for Nigel that they posted on Facebook—a touching tribute to the bird that couldn’t find a single friend:
You stayed awhile on Mana Island,
Attracted by your concrete mates
You built a nest, you did your best
But only Norman dropped on by.
We weeded, we painted, we sprayed guano around.
We hoped you’d find the real thing.
Three newbies arrived, a Christmas surprise,
But suddenly you are gone.
RIP ‘no mates’ Nigel
Volunteers on the island have been keeping up the fake birds for years, painting their yellow heads, and black feathers, but they believe that a new speaker system with fake bird calls was what finally attracted the three new gannets to the island.
And with any luck, Nigel’s tragic existence wooing a bird that could never comfort him back, will still do some good. Conservationists point out that if the three new gannets lay eggs on the island, those chicks are likely to come back after they reach maturity.
“He was an attraction that helped bring in other birds,” Bell told The Guardian. “Gannets like to nest where a gannet has nested before. It’s really sad he died, but it wasn’t for nothing.”
According to the New Zealand news outlet Stuff, Nigel’s body is being sent to Massey University to determine precisely how Nigel died. And while I’m no scientist, I dare say it was from a broken heart.