House mice seen attacking adult albatrosses for the first time

Thursday 5 December 2019

A curious Tristan albatross reaches out towards camera

  • Introduced house mice on the UK Overseas Territory of Gough Island in the South Atlantic have been seen attacking adult albatrosses for the first time
  • Without action, the Tristan albatross is likely to become extinct
  • Plans are underway to save this and other species. The RSPB plans to eradicate the mice in 2020, in one of the most ambitious projects of its kind ever attempted.

New video footage captured from a British Island in the South Atlantic shows that mice are attacking adult albatrosses.

This is the first time this behaviour has been documented on Gough island with previous footage showing the mice attacking and devouring the chicks. Such attacks on adult albatrosses is only known from one other island in the world. 

A study last year found that the mice are responsible for over two million fewer seabird chicks and eggs on island each year. This environmental catastrophe threatens albatrosses and petrels with extinction.

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.”

Mice were accidentally introduced by sailors to the remote Gough Island during the 19th century. Now, over 100 years later mice have learned to exploit the island’s once abundant birds, eating alive the eggs and chicks of as many as 19 different species. The mice can attack chicks up to 300 times their own weight.

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

Gough Island hosts 99 per cent of the world’s Critically Endangered Tristan albatross and Atlantic petrel populations – two species especially vulnerable to mouse predation because their chicks are left alone in winter. Just 2,000 Tristan albatross pairs now remain.

Video cameras placed alongside nests have revealed what happens. The mice, in groups of up to nine, attack the birds and in the case of chicks can eat them alive. Albatrosses mate for life, producing just one egg every other year. The loss of adult birds will accelerate this tragedy.

The RSPB and Tristan da Cunha government, supported by the UK Government, together with international partners including Island Conservation from the USA, the South African Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries, BirdLife South Africa and the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland have developed The Gough Island Restoration Programme.

Not letting the challenges of working on one of the world’s most remote islands get in the way, the Gough team are planning a £9m endeavour to eradicate mice from Gough Island in 2020. A further £3m is still needed to fully fund the project. Find out more at

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