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23 Oct 2023
It was Matt Peck’s first season of field work in the archipelago of Haida Gwaii when he found himself on a rocky island overflowing with oystercatchers, thousands of the orange-billed seabirds trilling and squawking in a riot of life.
As the researchers counted eggs on the islet off Canada’s west coast, they discovered an odd nest of twigs and grass nestled in the rocks. The team launched into a debate over which species of bird it could have housed.
“You get so excited about what it could be. But after a couple minutes, we realised what the nest was,” said Peck, a researcher with the Laskeek Bay Conservation Society. “It just hit so hard and my heart dropped.”
The nest belonged to a rat, signalling the arrival of a species that has overrun nearby islands in recent decades and killed millions of birds. For a moment, the researchers considered hurling the nest into the ocean below.
“These islands are such a beautiful, inspiring place. And some of them were so special because they’re supposed to the last places in Haida Gwaii free of invasive species. You just felt for all these birds because you knew what was coming – and it was devastating.”