Threatened sea-bird travels thousands of kilometres to feed

An adult grey petrel with its chick on the nest.
An adult grey petrel with its chick on the nest. (Photo: Richard Dakin)
An adult grey petrel with a small satellite transmitter attached to its back.A chick with a small silver leg band on its left leg.An adult grey petrel with its wings outstretched, coming in to land on a grassy tuft on Macquarie Island.

29th November 2016

Scientists on sub-Antarctic Macquarie Island have used satellite tags to track the foraging behaviour of a threatened sea-bird, the grey petrel, for the first time.

The grey petrel weighs one kilogram and is a burrowing seabird which breeds on Macquarie Island, half way between Australia and Antarctica.

Parks Wildlife Ranger, Marcus Salton, said researchers have been studying the birds on the Island for the past 16 years but until now knew nothing about their at–sea foraging behaviour and habitat use.

“Over winter for the first time we attached a small satellite transmitter to ten adult grey petrels to track their movements over more than 100 days,” Mr Salton said.

“The results were astounding, showing the birds foraged over a very broad area. Some flew as far as 3000 kilometres east of Macquarie Island past New Zealand, while other birds foraged several thousand kilometres northwest near to Australia.”

“The tags also show the birds regularly return to their burrows on the Island during the breeding season,” Mr Salton said.

The grey petrel is currently listed as a threatened species due to impacts on the birds on land and at sea.

“This at-sea foraging data will help identify key feeding grounds for grey petrels during their breeding season.

“With this information, we can better manage fisheries interactions with the birds and explore the potential impacts of changing ocean conditions on the health of the grey petrel population.”

The research is a joint initiative of the Tasmanian Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment and the Marine Conservation Program Albatross and Petrel program.