First petrel moves into custom-built nest box

The first grey-faced petrel to nest at Shakespear Open Sanctuary is being closely watched by excited conservationists.

The concerted efforts of volunteers at Shakespear Open Sanctuary to attract seabirds to nest on cliffs have paid off with the first grey-faced petrel moving in to a purpose-built nest box recently and giving it the seal of approval by laying an egg.

Birdcalls have been played from solar powered speakers on the cliffs at night for the past three years in an effort to attract three species of seabird, and volunteers built nest boxes to save the birds the effort of burrowing into the cliff face.

SOSSI’s volunteer seabird coordinator Jacinda Woolly says a pair were spotted in one of the nest boxes on Anzac Day and an egg was laid in there in the first week of July. She says all going well, the chick is expected to hatch towards end of this month. The pairs only produce one egg per season.
Provided a chick successfully hatches, it will be banded when it’s big enough so that it can be identified if it eventually returns to the same spot to make its own nest.

Jacinda says seabirds are a really important part of coastal ecosystems but have mostly disappeared from the mainland because of introduced pest animals. “We are trying to bring them back to Shakespear as they are a really important component of the long-term ecological restoration of this site,” she says. “Because they nest in burrows in the ground, these birds and their chicks are highly vulnerable to predation from pests such as stoats and cats,” Jacinda says. “Shakespear is a suitable site to attract them to because it is pest-free.”

Grey faced petrels, which also delight in the Maori name ‘Oi’, feed at night, mainly on squid, fish and crustaceans.

They are reasonably common on some pest-free islands, including Tiritiri Matangi, and there are a couple of small colonies on the mainland including Tawharanui (where volunteers have also been doing acoustic attraction), and along the west coast including Muriwai, Piha, Bethells and Karekare.

Both sexes incubate the egg for spells of several days. The chick is fed at the nest for several months, leaving at around 118 days old. Grey-faced petrels spend most of their lives far out at sea in the Pacific, returning only to breed. Young birds can return to the breeding colony from the age of three years onwards, but most do not breed until they are more than seven years old. They can live to around 40 years old.


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