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‘Extinct’ sea bird, the New Zealand Storm-petrel, once again caught off New Zealand

19/07/2007 00:00:00

New Zealand Storm-petrel

  • The New Zealand storm-petrel is about 20 cm long and is black and white with black streaks on the belly. It lives and feeds at sea, only returning to land to breed.
December 2007. The New Zealand storm petrel, which was thought to have been extinct for 150 years until rediscovered in 2003, has again been sighted and recently captured in the Hauraki Gulf off the North Island of New Zealand, but its breeding site remains a mystery.

A team, including Department of Conservation staff and scientists, caught three birds in October and early November. This means that seven birds have been captured since the petrel was rediscovered by Dr Stephenson and Sav Saville of the coast of Whitianga in January 2003.
Specially designed net gun for catching New Zealand Storm-petrel. © Halema Jamieson/New Zealand Department of Conservation
Specially designed net gun
Ornithologist Dr Stephenson, who snared two birds with one shot using a custom-made net gun, said the moment was unforgettable. ‘It’s not everyday you get to hold a seabird that for 150 years was thought to be extinct, let alone hold two.’

None of the captured birds showed signs of breeding, so the birds were released without attaching transmitters, said Dr Stephenson. The transmitters are used to track the birds with the aim of discovering which island they are breeding on.

Despite this, information from the birds will be useful, with measurements and photographs important to understanding this little known bird. DNA from the birds will also be compared with that taken from skins from NZ storm petrels caught in the 1800s. Dr Bruce Robertson from the School of Biological Sciences at Canterbury University is conducting this work.

DOC officer Karen Baird said it was thought the petrels might be breeding on islands where rodents had been eradicated such as the Mokohinau islands. ‘One of the theories is that the birds survived in very low numbers on an island where rats were present and once the rats were removed the birds have been quietly building up in numbers until they began to be noticed several years ago.’
New Zealand Storm-petrel. © Halema Jamieson/New Zealand Department of Conservation
Radio transmitters
Last year three storm petrels were caught and fitted with minute radio transmitters, weighing just one gram. However, extensive searches by plane around islands in the Hauraki Gulf failed to reveal any of the birds on land. The photos, measurements and DNA samples from these birds enabled them to be confirmed as the long lost New Zealand storm petrel, said Ms Baird.

If you are in New Zealand, and especially if you are planning to go out on a boat in the area, keep an eye out for this small black and white bird. Phone in any sightings to the 24 hour free DOC hotline – 0800 DOCHOT (362468) – or send photos and details to ‘NZ storm petrel sightings’, Department of Conservation, PO Box 474, Warkworth. A fact sheet is available from DOC Warkworth.

This year’s expedition was also supported by local fishing charter operator Brett Rathe and the New Zealand Navy, with time spent onboard navy vessels HMNZS Kahu and Kiwi.

The team were funded jointly by DOC and a grant from National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration.

Read the comments about this article and leave your own comment

NZ Storm Petrels

Are there different species of this bird, with one being particularly rare?
Reason I ask is because we have seen storm petrels for many years in the outer Hauraki Gulf, since at least 1987. We have had them land in our boat at night regularly. We wondered if these were the rare species or a more common variety.
We call them skippy birds and they are also known as 'Jesus' birds, we see many of them, so are confused that they are being classed as rare.
I have a photo of these birds which I took a few years back.

Posted by: RnR Charters Ltd | 03 Mar 2014 06:34:22

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