Ian’s Bird of the Week – Providence Petrel ~ by Ian Montgomery
Newsletter ~ 5/20/13
Your collective moral support did it again, thank you very much, so here is the Providence Petrel the other really special bird species of Lord Howe Island. ‘Special’ in the sense that after its extermination on Norfolk Island by 1800, Lord Howe was its last remaining breeding site, saving it from extinction. Unlike Norfolk Island which lacks very high mountains, Lord Howe has two fairly inaccessible ones, Mount Lidgbird, on the left in the first photo, and the taller Mount Gower on the right and it is on the tops and slopes of these that the Providence Petrel breeds.
You need to be a mountaineer to climb Mount Lidgbird and young and very fit to climb Mount Gower. We took the easier option of going by boat to the base of Mount Gower where we got good views of many Petrels in flight preparing to land at their nesting burrows. They are winter breeders, returning to the island in March and laying eggs in May. They seem reluctant to actually land, so each afternoon the air around the two Mountains swarms with these birds like clouds of insects and it is a wonderful sight.
Very clumsy on the ground, they are fast and agile in the air so I was happy to get a few reasonable shots given the choppy conditions without falling overboard. The first Petrel photo shows the characteristic overall dark bird (it looks lighter than usual against Mount Gower) with the characteristic white patches on the primary wing feathers and under wing coverts that distinguishes it from most other similar petrels. The second petrel shot, shows the upper wings – these are all dark and lack the white shafts to the primaries that distinguish the similar Kermadec Petrel. Other field marks are the scaly white feathers on the face and the dark neck and upper breast.
The third petrel photo shows a more characteristic dorsal shot with the bird silhouetted against the sky and shows it long slender wings. The birds average 40cm/16 in in length with a wingspan of about 1 m/3 ft 3 in. After breeding, the disperse to the North Pacific. For food, they dive into the water for crustaceans, squid and small fish.
The Lord Howe population is estimated at about 30,000 pairs. Feral pigs were eliminated as part of the Woodhen recovery project and the Petrels are recolonising the lower slopes of the mountains. They were rediscovered on Phillip Island close to Norfolk Island in 1985 and the current population there is less than 100 pairs. The elimination from Norfolk Island took place between 1790 and 1800 with perhaps one million adults and young being harvested in the period 1790-1793.
Ian Montgomery, Birdway Pty Ltd,
454 Forestry Road, Bluewater, Qld 4818
Tel 0411 602 737 firstname.lastname@example.org
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Let them give glory unto the LORD, and declare his praise in the islands. (Isaiah 42:12 KJV)
Ian has shared another of his birdwatching adventures with us. It’s good to hear that the Petrels there are making a comeback.
Petrels belong to the Procellaridae Family. The family consists of Petrels, Shearwaters, Fulmars, and Prions,
“The Providence Petrel (Pterodroma solandri) is a species that burrows in one location; isolated Lord Howe Island, some 800km from the Australian mainland in the Tasman Sea.
Of roughly pigeon like proportions (40cm), the bird was once also numerous on Norfolk Island (to Australia). However, its population here was consumed by starving epicurean transportees, sent to Norfolk Island as way of punishment. Nonetheless it numbers some 100,000 on Lord Howe. Graceful and supple in flight, the Providence Petrel has a cumbersome propensity on the ground, making it vulnerable from attack by predators.
Despite its reasonably copious strength of numbers, the Providence Petrel is deemed to be in a precarious disposition because its breeding is confined to two mountain tops and one tiny islet, and is therefore at great risk from a catastrophe.
This species is classified as vulnerable. Main causes of death are predation by the endangered Lord Howe Rail and flooding of burrows. Other dangers include rat predation and drowning in longline fishing gear. The current population is estimated at 64,000.
The scientific name of this species was given in honour of the Swedish botanist Daniel Solander, Solander’s Petrel being an alternative common name.” (Information from Wikipedia)
Providence Petrel – Wikipedia