email a friend
printable version
Chatham Petrel Pterodroma axillaris
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

This species has been downlisted to Vulnerable because although its population has undergone a rapid decline over the past three generations and it is restricted to just three locations, the population has been increasing since 2000 owing to intensive conservation action including two translocations, such that the decline over the past three generations has no longer been very rapid.

Taxonomic source(s)
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
del Hoyo, J.; Collar, N. J.; Christie, D. A.; Elliott, A.; Fishpool, L. D. C. 2014. HBW and BirdLife International Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International.
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

30 cm. Small, grey-and-white gadfly petrel with unique underwing pattern. Dark grey crown, sides of face and neck. Black mark behind eye. Grey upperparts. Grey tail with dark tip. Grey upperwing with dark, moderately distinct "M". Pale grey half-collar at sides of breast. Rest of underparts white. White underwing with dark tip, broad, black bar extending from axillaries (where broadest) to carpal joint, then less prominently towards tip. Similar spp. Black underwing bar of Black-winged Petrel P. nigripennis does not reach body and axillaries. Larger Mottled Petrel P. inexpectata has bold bar, but has dark centre to belly. Voice Flight call whis-whis-whis, oi, purring call given on ground.

Distribution and population
This species is restricted to South East Island (= Rangatira) and Pitt Island and Main Chatham Island in the Chatham Islands, New Zealand, having been reintroduced to both of the latter two (J. Hobbs in litt. 2009). Subfossils indicate that it was once more widespread, being present on Mangere Islands (A. J. D. Tennyson per P. Scofield in litt. 2012). The earliest estimate of 50 birds was later revised to 200-400 (Marchant and Higgins 1990). A mark-recapture census in 2004 estimated that the global population stood at 1,000-1,100 individuals comprising 250 breeding pairs, a floater population of adults unable to breed each year owing to loss of partners or nesting sites, and juveniles aged up to five years (Taylor 2000, G. Taylor in litt. 2009). The increase reflects an improvement in knowledge and since 2000, a marked response to successful management with over 100 chicks now fledging annually and many recruiting back to the island.

Significant declines occurred during the 20th century and continued into the 1990s; an annual decline of 1% per annum has been crudely estimated and cautious interpretation suggests a gross decline of 40-50% or more may have occurred over the past three generations (G. Taylor in litt. 2009). Trends appear to have stabilised since 2000, prompted by successful conservation measures. Between 2002 and 2006, 200 chicks were moved to a newly created predator-free site on Pitt Island; successful breeding first occurred in 2006 (Anon 2006), and 17 pairs were present in 2012 (G. Taylor in litt. 2012). About 200 chicks were transferred to the 7.5-ha Sweetwater Conservation Covenant on the main Chatham Island between 2008 and 2011. The first breeding attempt at this site occurred in 2012 (G. Taylor in litt. 2012, Bell et al. 2013). It migrates to the northern Pacific Ocean like the closely-related P. nigripennis, and has been recorded at sea to the south of the islands (Heather and Robertson 1997, R. Hitchmough in litt. 2005). Tracking research conducted in 2009/2010 using geolocators has shown that birds feed mainly south and east of the Chatham Islands during the breeding season, with the Bollons Seamount being important during chick rearing (Rayner et al. 2012), and migrate to the eastern Pacific in winter to an area over and north of the Nazca sea ridge, about 1,000-1,500 km west of Chile and Peru (G. Taylor in litt. 2012).

Population justification
Based on an age at first breeding of three years, and an estimate that at least 75% of birds will be over three years old, the latest total population estimate from 2010 of c. 1,400 individuals probably includes c. 1,100 mature individuals (G. Taylor in litt. 2012).

Trend justification
Occupied burrows and the number of surface birds declined at areas in common usage in the 1930s, into the 1990s. Intense, sometimes lethal, competition with Broad-billed Prions Pachyptila vittata for burrow space precipitated recent declines, crudely estimated at 1% per annum equating to approximately 50% over the past three generations. Since 1997, however, control of prions at known petrel burrows, a practice replaced by use of burrow flaps since 2001, has greatly improved nesting success and the population is now increasing; a trend boosted by two recent and successful translocations to predator free conservation covenants on Pitt Island and Chatham Island. The total population has now recovered from 600-800 birds in 1995 to about 1,400 birds in 2010 (based on mark-recapture and burrow survey analysis) (G. Taylor in litt. 2012). The population continues to increase and birds have been colonising formerly occupied parts of South East Island (G. Taylor in litt. 2012, K.J. Wilson in litt. 2012). Although dependent on conservation action, the continued population increase makes it likely that the population size reduction over the past three generations (47 years) is now less than 50% (G. Taylor in litt. 2012). However the reduction is still likely to be greater than 30%.

It nests in burrows in very friable densely burrowed soils in lowland temperate forest and scrub, on flat to moderate sloping ground (Marchant and Higgins 1990). Its diet is not well known but includes squid and small fish. Some young have returned to the island at two years old (Heather and Robertson 1997), and breeding has been recorded at the age of three, although most individuals do not breed until five years of age (G. Taylor in litt. 2009). Much of the life cycle is spent at sea; birds return to land only to breed. Visits to the colony occur after dark.

On South East Island, intense competition for burrows with the abundant Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata (including lethal attacks on chicks and eggs, and occasionally adults) is the primary threat (Was et al. 2000). Such competition may be the cause of the observed low breeding success and high rate of pair-bond disruption. On the other islands in the group, exploitation by humans for food and introduced predators were the probable causes of extirpation (Taylor 2000). Predator-proof fencing has facilitated translocations to two Conservation Covenants on Pitt Island and Chatham Island; alien invasive mammals will remain a constant potential threat to these sites and on-going management will be required.

Conservation and Research Actions Underway
South East Island has been managed as a reserve since 1954, and cattle, sheep and goats were removed in 1961 (Marchant and Higgins 1990, Taylor 2000). Intensive research, on-going since 1991, helped to identify the impact of Pachyptila vittata. As a consequence, artificial nest-sites have been provided and burrows have been blocked to prevent occupation by P. vittata during the absence of Pterodroma axillaris. P. vittata found occupying P. axillaris burrows are culled (Taylor 2000). Since 2001, neoprene burrow flaps installed at burrow entrances have greatly reduced prion impacts during the period February to April (Sullivan and Wilson 2001). These measures have greatly improved breeding success (G. Taylor in litt. 1999, Taylor 2000), from 10-30% in early 1990s to a mean of 80% in 2000-2010 (Gummer et al. 2015). Intensive burrow searches have now located over 160 active breeding sites of the estimated 250 pairs using the island. All newly located burrows are converted to artificial nest sites and are safe-guarded from prion interference. The project aims to maximise productivity from the approximately 150 mapped and managed burrows (G. Taylor in litt. 2015).

In 2002, a second population was created in a predator free enclosure on the 40-ha Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant (EEPCC). Over a period of four years, 200 chicks were transferred to this site, and by 2006 four birds had returned with a pair successfully rearing a single chick for the first time (Taylor 2000, Anon 2006). In 2006-2007, four pairs nested and four chicks were reared. This included one pair of unbanded birds that have been lured presumably to the site by the sound attraction system. In 2008, seven chicks fledged from the EEPCC. About 200 chicks were transferred to the 7.5-ha Sweetwater Conservation Covenant on the main Chatham Island between 2008 and 2011. In the 2011-2012 breeding season, a pair successfully raised a chick in the Sweetwater Conservation Covenant, and several more burrows were active (per P. Scofield in litt. 2012, G. Taylor in litt. 2012). In 2009-2010, 22 geolocation tags were applied to breeding Chatham petrels and 18 were recovered (Rayner et al. 2012).

and Research Actions ProposedMonitor breeding burrows annually and mark all chicks. Continue to protect nesting birds. Continue translocating birds to the Sweetwater Conservation Covenant on Chatham Island until a self-maintaining population is established. Use tiny geolocation tags to investigate the species's at-sea distribution across multiple years, and identify potential threats.

Anon. 2006. Predator control key to Chatham seabird success. World Birdwatch 28(3): 4.

Bell, M., Tuanui, L. and Gummer, H. 2013. Use of trail cameras to monitor Chatham petrels (Pterodroma axillaris) returning to Chatham Island following translocation. Notornis 60: 115-116.

Gummer, H., Taylor, G., Wilson, K.J., and Rayner, M.J. 2015. Recovery of the endangered Chatham petrel (Pterodroma axillaris): A review of conservation management techniques from 1990 to 2010. Global Ecology and Conservation 3: 310-323.

Heather, B. D.; Robertson, H. A. 1997. The field guide to the birds of New Zealand. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

IUCN. 2015. The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2015-4. Available at: (Accessed: 19 November 2015).

Marchant, S.; Higgins, P. J. 1990. Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic birds, 1: ratites to ducks. Oxford University Press, Melbourne.

Rayner, M. J.; Taylor, G. A.; Gummer, H. D.; Phillips, R. A.; Sagar, P. M.; Shaffer, S. A.; Thompson, D. R. 2012. The breeding cycle, year-round distribution and activity patterns of the endangered Chatham Petrel (Pterodroma axillaris). Emu.

Sullivan, W., Wilson, K-J, 2001. Use of burrow flaps to minimise interference to Chatham petrel (Pterodroma axillaris) chicks by broad-billed prions (Pachyptila vittata). New Zealand Journal of Ecology 25(2): 71-75.

Taylor, G. A. 2000. Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Was, N.; Sullivan, W.; Wilson, K.-J. 2000. Burrow competition between broad-billed prions (Pachyptila vittata) and the endangered Chatham petrel (Pterodroma axillaris). Department of Conservation, Wellington.

Further web sources of information
Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE) species/site profile. This species has been identified as an AZE trigger due to its IUCN Red List status and limited range.

Click here for more information about the Alliance for Zero Extinction (AZE)

Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

New Zealand Govt - Dept of Conservation - Recovery Plan

Search for photos and videos, and hear sounds of this species from the Internet Bird Collection

Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Benstead, P., Bird, J., Calvert, R., Lascelles, B., McClellan, R., Taylor, J., Temple, H. & Ashpole, J

Hitchmough, R., Scofield, P., Taylor, G.A., Tennyson, A., Wilson, K. & Bourne, W.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pterodroma axillaris. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 27/10/2016.

This information is based upon, and updates, the information published in BirdLife International (2000) Threatened birds of the world. Barcelona and Cambridge, UK: Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International, BirdLife International (2004) Threatened birds of the world 2004 CD-ROM and BirdLife International (2008) Threatened birds of the world 2008 CD-ROM. These sources provide the information for species accounts for the birds on the IUCN Red List.

To provide new information to update this factsheet or to correct any errors, please email BirdLife

To contribute to discussions on the evaluation of the IUCN Red List status of Globally Threatened Birds, please visit BirdLife's Globally Threatened Bird Forums.

Additional resources for this species

ARKive species - Chatham petrel (Pterodroma axillaris) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Vulnerable
Family Procellariidae (Petrels, Shearwaters)
Species name author (Salvin, 1893)
Population size 1100 mature individuals
Population trend Increasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 1,710,000 km2
Country endemic? Yes
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species