In the absence of a living love interest, Nigel became enamored with one of the 80 faux birds. He built her — it? — a nest. He groomed her “chilly, concrete feathers . . . year after year after year,” the Guardian reported. He died next to her in that unrequited love nest, the vibrant orange-yellow plumage of his head contrasting, as ever, with the weathered, lemony paint of hers.
“Whether or not he was lonely, he certainly never got anything back, and that must have been [a] very strange experience,” conservation ranger Chris Bell, who also lives on the island, told the paper. “I think we all have a lot of empathy for him, because he had this fairly hopeless situation.”
As he persisted in this futile courtship, Nigel accrued something of a fan base. Mana is a scientific reserve that, like other New Zealand islands, has been the focus of replanting and rodent eradication efforts. Friends of Mana Island, one of the groups that has planted trees and shrubs, said on Facebook that Nigel “won the hearts” of members and volunteers who “spent many hours over the years maintaining the concrete colony.”
Another gannet spent some time on Mana last year. Unfortunately, it was a he, dubbed Norman.
Perhaps the saddest twist to this tale is that three other gannets settled on Mana last month, after conservation officials tweaked the sound system used to attract them, according to the New Zealand website Stuff. This raised the possibility of breeding. But Nigel paid them no attention.
“This just feels like the wrong ending to the story,” Bell told Stuff. “He died right at the beginning of something great.”
But Nigel — whose nickname was “no mates” — will forever be remembered as the pioneer of the colony and credited with signaling to the new trio that Mana was suitable habitat, Bell said.
On Thursday, Friends of Mana Island posted an original poem dedicated to the lonely castaway:
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
An earlier version of this article said Nigel arrived on Mana five years ago. The earliest known sighting was in 2015, according to the New Zealand Department of Conservation.