'Extinct' seabird sighting stirs up a storm


When the NZ Storm Petrel was first sighted by Dr Brent Stevenson and Saw Saville off the Whitianga Coast in January 2003 the news of the re-appearance of a seabird , unsighted for 150 years and thought extinct, set the birding world on fire.

Recently a team including Department of Conservation staff and scientists, funded jointly by DOC and a grant from National Geographic’s Committee for Research and Exploration, caught three birds during October and early November this year.

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.

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.”

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 loNZ Storm Petrel - Photo by Dr Brent Stevensonng lost New Zealand storm petrel, said Ms Baird.

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.

Boaties are asked to keep an eye out for this small black and white bird. Phone 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.