WPY 2013

Photograph Details

Winner 2013

Behaviour: Birds

Isak Pretorius, South Africa

Sticky situation

In May, the seafaring lesser noddies head for land to breed. Their arrival on the tiny island of Cousine in the Seychelles coincides with peak web size for the red-legged golden orb-web spiders. The female spiders, which can grow to the size of a hand, create colossal conjoined webs up to 1.5 metres in diameter in which the tiny males gather. These are woven from extremely strong silk and are suspended up to six metres above the ground, high enough to catch passing bats and birds, though it's flying insects that the spiders are after. Noddies regularly fly into the webs. Even if they struggle free, the silk clogs up their feathers so they can't fly. This noddy was exhausted, says Isak, 'totally still, its fragile wing so fully stretched that I could see every feather'. The only way to accentuate the female spider was to crop the wings. And it was only human intervention that saved the bird. But a stickier threat awaited it on the same island: native pisonia, or cabbage trees. These are favourite nesting places for lesser noddies, whose feathers get covered in the trees' sticky seeds. If the load is too heavy, they can't fly, fall to the ground and die. But there is an ultimate twist to the story: the corpses provide compost for the seeds, which give rise to new nesting places for future generations of noddies.

Technical specification

Canon EOS-1D Mark IV + 70-200mm f2.8 lens; 1/500 sec at f5.6 (-1 e/v); ISO 1600; Canon 580EX flash.

Cousine Island, Seychelles: latitude -4.35073, longitude 55.6475 Cousine Island, Seychelles: latitude -4.35073, longitude 55.6475

Cousine Island, Seychelles

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