White–headed petrels are a threatened seabird that breed in burrows on Macquarie Island. They are one of the larger burrowing species (between 580 — 810 grams) and the most abundant and widely distributed of the petrels breeding on Macca.
Their global population is in decline due to interactions with invasive species (such as cats and rabbits) and the population on Macquarie Island is listed as vulnerable under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Act 1995. For these reasons, white–headed petrels were selected as a key species to monitor pre–and post–MIPEP (Macquarie Island Pest Eradication Program).
Over the past two weeks, Field Biologist Kim and myself have searched two of the long–term white–headed petrel sites. Our aim was to identify the number of breeding attempts within the site and reproduce photos of vegetation, which can be used to relate changes in their population to habitat. We found many white–headed petrels breeding in both sites — some with small chicks! In a couple of months these sites will be checked again to see how many of the breeding attempts produce full–grown chicks (i.e. were successful breeders). We even found some other burrowing species co-habitating the site — sooty shearwaters!
It was great to see the white–headed petrels have survived the cats and rabbits that were present on Macquarie Island. Their breeding sites are looking in pretty good condition this year, so hopefully they will have a good breeding season. The data collected this season will be incorporated into the long–term database and analysed in the coming months to assess their population status and trends. Fingers crossed for some more good news about the wildlife living and breeding here on Macquarie Island.