Grey petrel

Procellaria cinerea Gmelin, 1789

New Zealand status: Native

Conservation status: Naturally Uncommon

Other names: pediunker, kuia, gray petrel, brown petrel, black-tailed shearwater, black-tailed petrel

Geographical variation: Nil

Grey petrel. Ventral view in flight. Antipodes Island, March 2009. Image © David Boyle by David Boyle

Grey petrel. Ventral view in flight. Antipodes Island, March 2009. Image © David Boyle by David Boyle

The grey petrel is common at sea around New Zealand as far north as East Cape, but rarely seen near the mainland. It feeds in both small and large groups, and scavenges behind fishing vessels. Grey petrels are large, grey-and-white petrels with pale grey legs and feet. Grey petrels usually fly just above the water, but can soar much higher. Grey petrels have a circumpolar distribution, breeding on Antipodes, Campbell, Gough, Marion, Prince Edward Islands, Iles Crozet, and the Kerguelen and Tristan da Cunha groups. Grey petrels are winter breeders. In New Zealand, they breed in burrows on Antipodes and Campbell Islands; the largest colony is on Antipodes Island which holds an estimated 53,000 breeding pairs. Beach-wrecked juvenile grey petrels are often found on the east coast of the North Island.

Identification

Grey petrels are large, heavy bodied seabirds that are ashy grey above and white below, with slightly darker grey wings and tail. The legs and feet are fleshy grey, darker on the outside, with yellowish webs. The bill is stout, and green/yellow flesh, with black between the plates and on the nostrils.

Voice: grey petrels rarely call at sea, but are very vocal on the ground during the breeding season, giving two main calls; a ‘Moan’ - a low, barely audible calls when males and females are bonding in the burrow together or bonding with the chick, and ‘Rattle’ – loud quacking calls that are repeated often just after dark and before dawn and appear to be used to attract females to the burrow location. Both sexes also have a ‘Bleat’ call when threatened (as an alarm call) or during territorial disputes.

Similar species: very rare vagrant Cory’s shearwater is larger and appears brownish-grey with a subtle darker M across the upper wings. Pink-footed shearwater (also a rare vagrant in New Zealand) is smaller with shorter wings, grey-brown upperparts and a pinkish bill.

Distribution and habitat

Grey petrels breed on Antipodes Island and Campbell Island in the subantarctic. During the breeding season, grey petrels occur in waters east of New Zealand, particularly East Cape and the Gisborne coast. During the non-breeding season, grey petrels fly east to the Humboldt Current off Peru. Elsewhere, grey petrels breed on Macquarie, Gough, Marion and Prince Edward Islands, Iles Crozet, and the Kerguelen and Tristan da Cunha groups. They are most often seen at sea, ranging widely over deep water between 32° and 58°S. Grey petrels are rarely seen from land away from breeding islands.

Population

The largest population of grey petrels in New Zealand is on Antipodes Island, with 53,000 breeding pairs. There are fewer than 100 pairs on Campbell Island. Other populations around the world range up to 25,000 pairs (Gough Island).

Threats and conservation

Since the eradication of Norway rats from Campbell Island, grey petrels have few land-based threats on their New Zealand breeding islands. Both Antipodes and Campbell Islands are legally protected island sanctuaries with restricted access. On other island colonies, grey petrels are affected by feral cats, rats and mice. Grey petrels have been caught by commercial fishers both in New Zealand waters and overseas and are recognised as at high risk from commercial fishing operations.

Few conservation actions have specifically targeted grey petrels. The Antipodes Island population was surveyed in 2001 and foraging tracking (using geolocator devices) was undertaken between 2007 and 2008. Mitigation to reduce seabird bycatch has been put in place on commercial fisheries vessels operating within New Zealand. The conservation status of this species was moved from 'at risk - declining' to 'at risk - naturally uncommon' in 2013.

Breeding

Grey petrels are colonial breeders, nesting in short to long (1-3 m) burrows on steep, well-draining slopes. They are monogamous, with shared incubation and chick care. Winter breeders, grey petrels attend the colony from February to December, with a single white egg laid in late March-April. Incubation is shared and takes 52-65 days. Chicks hatch from May-June and are left unattended during daylight when 1-3 days old. It is assumed that both parents feed the chick by regurgitation. Chicks fledge in October-December at 110-160 days old.

Behaviour and ecology

Grey petrels are often solitary at sea, but sometimes form flocks around fishing vessels or in association with cetaceans. They typically feed on squid and fish by surface feeding or shallow diving. Grey petrels excavate their own burrows on steep, well-draining slopes of well-vegetated islands. They breed as monogamous pairs, which typically remain together throughout their breeding lives. Grey petrels primarily visit the breeding colonies after dark, but occasionally fly over the island and land in broad daylight. They depart before dawn, or stay in burrows during daylight. After breeding, grey petrels migrate to South America, staying in seas off Peru from December to March.

Grey petrels are silent at sea, but are vocal on the breeding grounds.

Food

Little is known about the main food items of grey petrels, but squid (Teuthoidea), fish and crustaceans have been recorded. Grey petrels readily take offal and discards from fishing vessels.

Weblinks

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grey_Petrel

http://www.nzbirds.com/birds/petrelgrey.html

http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/speciesfactsheet.php?id=3925

http://acap.aq/en/resources/acap-species2/249-grey-petrel/file

References

Bailey, A.M.; Sorensen, J.H. 1962. Subantarctic Campbell Island. Proceedings of Denver Museum Natural History 10. 305p.

Barbraud, C.; Delord, K.; Mareau, C.; Weimerskirch, H. 2009. Estimates of population size of white-chinned and grey petrels at Kerguelen Islands and sensitivity to fisheries. Animal Conservation 12: 258-265.

Bartle, J.A. 1990. Sexual segregation of foraging zones in procellariiform birds: implications of accidental capture on commercial fishery long-lines of grey petrels (Procellaria cinerea). Notornis 37: 146-150.

Bartle, J.A. 2000a. Autopsy report for seabirds killed and returned from New Zealand fisheries, 1 January 1996 to 30 September 1996. Conservation Advisory Science Notes 292. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Bartle, J.A. 2000b. Autopsy report for seabirds killed and returned from New Zealand fisheries, 1 October 1996 to 31 December 1997. Conservation Advisory Science Notes 293. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Bell, E.A. 2002. Grey petrels (Procellaria cinerea) on Antipodes Island, New Zealand: a feasibility study, April to June 2001. DOC Science Internal Series 60. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 31 p.

Brooke, M. 1986. The vocal systems of two nocturnal burrowing petrels, the white-chinned Procellaria aequinoctialis and the grey P. cinerea. Ibis 128: 502-512.

Brothers, N.P. 1984. Breeding, distribution and status of burrow-nesting petrels at Macquarie Island. Australia Wildlife Research 11: 113-131.

Chastel, O. 1995. Influence of reproductive success on breeding frequency in four southern petrels. Ibis 137: 360-363.

Delord, K.; Gasco, N.; Weimerskirch, H.; Barbraud, C.; Micol, T. 2005. Seabird mortality in the Patagonian toothfish longline fishery around Crozet and Kerguelen Islands, 2001-2003. CCAMLR Science 12: 53-80.

Despin, B. 1976. Observations sur le petrel gris (Procellaria cinerea). L’oiseau et la R.F.O. 46: 432-433.

Favero, M.; Khatchikian, C.E.; Arias, A.; Rodriguez, M.P.S.; Canete, G.; Mariano-Jelicich, R. 2003. Estimates of seabird bycatch along the Patagonian Shelf by Argentine longline fishing vessels, 1999-2001. Bird Conservation International 13: 273-281.

Harper, P.C. 1987. Feeding behaviour and other notes on 20 species of Procellariiformes at sea. Notornis 34: 169-192.

Heather, B.D.; Robertson, H.A. 1996. Field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Penguin Books (NZ) Ltd, Auckland, New Zealand. 432 p.

Imber, M.J. 1983. The lesser petrels of Antipodes Islands, with notes from Prince Edward and Gough Islands. Notornis 30: 283-298.

Imber, M.J.; Bell, B.D.; Bell, E.A. 2005. Antipodes Island birds in autumn 2001. Notornis 52: 125-132.

Jenkins, J.A.F.; Greenwood, E. 1984. Southern seabirds in New Zealand coastal waters, July 1984. Notornis 31: 325-330.

Jones, E. 1980. A survey of burrow-nesting petrels at Macquarie Island based upon remains left by predators. Notornis 27: 11-20.

Jouventin, P.; Stahl, J-C.; Weimerskirch, H.; Mougin, J.L. 1984. The seabirds of the French subantarctic islands and Adelie Land, their status and conservation. Pp. 609-626 in Croxall, J.P.; Evans, P.G.H.; Schreiber, R.W. (eds). Status and conservation of the world’s seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2.

Jouventin, P.; Mougin, J-L.; Stahl, J-C.; Weimerskirch, H. 1985. Comparative biology of the burrowing petrels of the Crozet Islands. Notornis 32: 157-220.

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P.J. (eds) 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds. Vol. 1, ratites to ducks. Oxford University Press. Melbourne.

Moreno, C.A.; Arata, J.A.; Rubilar, P.; Hucke-Gaete, R.; Robertson, G. 2006. Artisanal longline fisheries in Southern Chile: lessons to be learned to avoid incidental seabird mortality. Biological Conservation 127: 27-36.

Murray, T.E.; Bartle, J.A.; Kalish, S.R.; Taylor, P.R. 1993. Incidental capture of seabirds by Japanese southern bluefin tuna longline vessels in New Zealand waters, 1988-1992. Bird Conservation International 3: 181-210.

Nel, D.C.; Ryan, P.G.; Watkins, B.P. 2002. Seabird mortality in the Patagonian toothfish longline fishery around Prince Edward Island, 1996-2000. Antarctic Science 14: 151-161.

Newton, I.P.; Fugler, S.R. 1989. Notes on the winter-breeding great-winged petrel Pterodroma macroptera and grey petrel Procellaria cinerea at Marion Island. Cormorant 17: 27-34.

O’Connor, T. (ed.). 1999. New Zealand’s subantarctic islands. Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd.

Parker, G.G.; Rexer-Huber, K.; Thompson, D. 2017. Grey petrel population on Campbell Island 14 years after rodent eradication. Antarctic Science 29: 209-216.

Powlesland, R.G. 1989. Seabirds found dead on New Zealand beaches in 1987, and a review of Procellaria species recoveries since 1960. Notornis 36: 299-310.

Richard, Y.; Abraham, E.R.; Filippi, D. 2011. Assessment of the risk to seabird populations from New Zealand commercial fisheries. Final Research Report for Ministry of Fisheries projects IPA2009/19 and IPA2009/20. Ministry of Fisheries, Wellington, New Zealand. 137 p.

Richardson, M.E. 1984. Aspects of the ornithology of the Tristan da Cunha Group and Gough Island, 1972-1974. Cormorant 17: 123-201.

Robertson, C.J.R. 2000. Autopsy report for seabirds killed and returned from New Zealand fisheries, 1 January 1998 to 30 September 1998. Conservation Advisory Science Notes 294. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Robertson, C.J.R.; Bell, B.D. 1984. Seabird status and conservation in the New Zealand region. Pp. 573-586 in Croxall, J.P.; Evans, P.G.H.; Schreiber, R.W. (eds) Status and conservation of the world’s seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2.

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Robertson, C.J.R.; Bell, E.A. 2002b. Autopsy report for seabirds killed and returned from New Zealand fisheries, 1 October 1999 to 30 September 2000: Birds returned by Ministry of Fisheries observers to the Department of Conservation. DOC Science Internal Series 29. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 41 p.

Robertson, C.J.R.; Bell, E.A.; Scofield, P. 2003. Autopsy report for seabirds killed and returned from New Zealand fisheries, 1 October 2000 to 30 September 2001: birds returned by Ministry of Fisheries observers to the Department of Conservation. DOC Internal Series 96. Department of Conservation, Wellington. 36 p.

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Warham, J.; Imber, M.J. 1985. Grey petrel. Page 89 in Reader’s Digest Complete book of New Zealand Birds. Sydney, Australia.

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Zotier, R. 1990. Breeding ecology of a subantarctic winter breeder: the grey petrel Procellaria cinerea on Kerguelen Islands. Emu 90: 180-184.

Recommended citation

Bell, E.A. 2013 [updated 2018]. Grey petrel. In Miskelly, C.M. (ed.) New Zealand Birds Online. www.nzbirdsonline.org.nz

Grey petrel

Social structure
monogamous
Breeding season
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Nest type
burrow
Nest description
One to three metres deep on a raised nest inside the chamber.
Nest height (mean)
0 m
Maximum number of successful broods
1
Clutch size (mean)
1
Mean egg dimensions (length)
81 mm
Mean egg dimensions (width)
56 mm
Egg colour
White
Egg laying dates
  • Jul
  • Aug
  • Sep
  • Oct
  • Nov
  • Dec
  • Jan
  • Feb
  • Mar
  • Apr
  • May
  • Jun
Interval between eggs in a clutch
Not applicable days
Incubation behaviour
shared
Incubation length (mean)
52-61 days
Incubation length (min)
52 days
Incubation length (max)
61 days
Nestling type
semi-precocial
Nestling period (mean)
110-120 days
Nestling period (min)
110 days
Nestling period (max)
120 days
Age at fledging (mean)
110-120 days
Age at fledging (min)
110 days
Age at fledging (max)
120 days
Age at independence (mean)
110-120 days
Age at independence (min)
110 days
Age at independence (max)
120 days
Age at first breeding (typical)
Unknown
Maximum longevity
Unknown
Maximum dispersal
11,000 km