email a friend
printable version
Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information
BirdLife Species Champion Become a BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme Supporter
For information about BirdLife Species Champions and Species Guardians visit the BirdLife Preventing Extinctions Programme.

This species has a small population which is in decline owing to predation by rats and cats. Its breeding range is small and declining and probably consists of fewer than ten locations. Trends are difficult to assess as breeding is variable both within and between years. The majority of birds breed on Kiritimati on which black rats have recently arrived. A very rapid population reduction is consequently predicted and this species therefore qualifies as Endangered.

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.

35 cm. Medium-sized, dark brown and white petrel. Fairly uniform greyish-brown head, neck, upper breast, upperparts, upperwing and tail. White lower breast, belly and undertail. Brown underwing, with thin white line near leading edge of inner wing. Black bill. Pink legs. Feet pink proximally, black distally. Similar spp. Uniform underwing is distinction from intermediate phases of Herald Petrel P. heraldica and Kermadec Petrel P. neglecta which have white patches. Confusion most likely with Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata, but it is less bulky, has smaller bill, and flies on angled wings without the languor of P. rostrata.

Distribution and population
Pterodroma alba breeds in the Line and Phoenix Islands (Kiribati), Marquesas Islands (French Polynesia), and Pitcairn Islands (to UK) (c.12-20 pairs on Oeno in 1997 and 1998 [Bell and Bell 1998, B. Bell verbally 1999]). In the Line Islands, the stronghold is Kiritimati (= Christmas Island) where, in 1967, the population was estimated at c.6,500 adults (Schreiber and Ashmole 1970) and, in 1980-1982, 20,000-25,000 (Perry 1980, Garnett 1984). Since then, it has apparently decreased, although previous estimates may have been too high (M. Rauzon in litt. 1999). In 2007, the population on Kiritimati was estimated at 2,300-3,800 pairs (per J.-C. Thibault in litt. 2012). In 1957, motus Tabu and Upua (islets in the main lagoon) supported c.800 nests each (Gallager 1960), in 1993, 50 and 40 pairs respectively (Jones, unknown), and in 1999, 200 and 300 (D. Watling in litt. 1999). In the Phoenix Islands, there were 50+ pairs on Canton in 1987 (Teebaki 1987), but none were found in surveys in 1995 and 1996 (nor did residents recall seeing them) (Flint and Bailey 1995, Flint et al. 1996), although, in 1999, it appeared common on Phoenix (A. D. Piazza per D. Watling in litt. 1999). In the Marquesas, it was present on two motus off Ua Pou in 1989 and 1990, on Fatu Huku (five pairs) in 1990 (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 1999) and more than 250 pairs were recorded on Hatuta'a Island in 2007 (Gangloff et al. 2009), although the population there in November 2010 was estimated at c.100 adults (J.-C. Thibault in litt. 2012). At Fatu Huku, c.12 birds were observed flying and one incubating in July 2011 (J.-F. Butaud per J.-C. Thibault in litt. 2012). At least one pair was found breeding on Hatu-Iti (=Motu Iti) (Marquesas Islands) in March 2010 (Champeau et al. 2011). There are no recent confirmed records from the Tuamotus (Holyoak and Thibault 1984) or Tonga (M. Rauzon in litt. 1999). During the non-breeding season it disperses over much of the tropical Pacific as far north as Hawaii and as far south as the Kermadec Islands (Gangloff et al. 2009).

Population justification
While population details are often uncertain, it appears this is now a scarce species, perhaps numbering only 10,000 breeding pairs and 30,000 individuals.

Trend justification
Repeated surveys of some locations have shown population declines and local extinctions; predation by feral cats is thought to be a major factor. The recent introduction of black rats R. rattus to a breeding stronghold may result in more rapid declines in the future.

It nests in colonies on islets or islands at low altitude, often coral atolls or volcanic islands, and feeds mainly on squid, supplemented by fish and crustaceans; it may obtain much food by following cetaceans (Holyoak and Thibault 1984, Carboneras 1992d).

Birds only appear to survive on islands without cats. The arrival of black rat Rattus rattus on Kiritimati is a major worry and is likely to lead to a very rapid population reduction (Dovey 2002). Predation by Polynesian rat R. exulans and subsistence hunting are additional threats of unknown effect (Holyoak 1975, Brooke 1995a, M. Rauzon in litt. 1999), although rats do not appear to be affecting population levels on Hatuta'a Island (Gangloff et al. 2009). On Kiritimati, a proposed satellite launch facility could have significant effects.

Conservation Actions Underway
On Kiritimati, a cat eradication programme has failed to limit predation by feral cats outside villages (M. Rauzon in litt. 1999, E. A. Schreiber in litt. 1999). There are plans to attract the species to cat-free Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge (200 miles from Kiritimati) using acoustic playback recorders (Rauzon 1985). On Oeno and Ducie, R. exulans was successfully eradicated in 1997 (B. Bell verbally 1999). In the Marquesas there is on-going work to keep protected areas free of introduced predators (P. Raust in litt. 2012).
Conservation Actions Proposed
Conduct surveys of and monitor known colonies (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 1999, M. Rauzon in litt. 1999), especially in the Phoenix Islands (A. K. Kepler in litt. 2000), and search for new ones, e.g. in the Tuamotus (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 1999). Assess risks of rat introduction and effects of island development (M. Rauzon in litt. 1999). Eradicate rats and cats from existing colonies (V. Bretagnolle in litt. 1999, M. Rauzon in litt. 1999), including throughout the Line and Phoenix islands (A. K. Kepler in litt. 2000). Carry out plans to attract the species to cat-free Jarvis Island National Wildlife Refuge (200 miles from Kiritimati), using acoustic playback recorders.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

Bell, B.; Bell, D. 1998. Pitcairn paradise preserved. World Birdwatch 20: 8-11.

Brooke, M. De L. 1995. The breeding biology of the gadfly petrels Pterodroma spp. of the Pitcairn Islands: characteristics, population sizes and controls. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society 56: 213-231.

Brooke, M. De L. 2004. Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.

Carboneras, C. 1992. Procellariidae (Petrels and Shearwaters). In: del Hoyo, J.; Elliott, A.; Sargatal, J. (ed.), Handbook of the birds of the world, pp. 216-257. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona, Spain.

Champeau, J; Bataud, J.-F.; Waugh, S. M.; Cranwell, S. 2011. The first comprehensive bird survey of Hatu-Iti Island, Marquesas Islands, French Polynesia. Marine Ornithology 39: 255-259.

Flint, E.; Bailey, S. 1995. Trip report: Baker Island 17 March to 1 April, 1995 (with notes from Kanton Island).

Flint, E.; Depkin, C.; Rauzon, M.; Broad, K. 1996. Trip report - Jarvis Island, 19-23 March 1996 (with notes from Palmyra and Kanton).

Gallagher, M. D. 1960. Bird notes from Christmas Island, Pacific Ocean. Ibis 102: 489-502.

Gangloff, B.; Raust, P.; Thibault, J.-C.; Bretagnolle, V. 2009. Notes on the Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba from Hatuta'a Island, Marquesas. Waterbirds 32(3): 453-458.

Garnett, M. C. 1984. Conservation of seabirds in the South Pacific region: a review. In: Croxall, J.P.; Evans, P.G.H.; Schreiber, R.W. (ed.), Status and conservation of the world's seabirds, pp. 547-558. International Council for Bird Preservation, Cambridge, U.K.

Holyoak, D. T. 1975. Les oiseaux des îles Marquises. L'Oiseau et la Revue Française d'Ornithologie 45: 207-234.

Holyoak, D. T.; Thibault, J. -C. 1984. Contribution à l'étude des oiseaux de Polynésie orientale. Memoires du Museum National d'Histoire Naturelle - Serie A: Zoologie 127: 1-209.

Jones, H. L. Undated. Coastal zone protection and resource management plan for Kiribati.

Perry, R. 1980. Wildlife conservation in the Line Island, Republic of Kiribatu (formerly Gilbert Islands). Environmental Conservation 7: 311-318.

Rauzon, M. J. 1985. Feral cats on Jarvis Island: their effects and their eradication. Atoll Research Bulletin 282: 1-32.

Schreiber, R. W.; Ashmole, P. 1970. Sea-bird breeding seasons on Christmas Island, Pacific Ocean. Ibis 112: 363-394.

Teebaki, K. 1987. Report of visit to Canton Island (Kanton), Kiritimati Wildlife Conservation Unit.

Thibault, J. -C. 1989. L'avifaune des îles Eiao et Hatuta'a (Polynésie, Pacifique Sud): modifications intervenues au XXe siècle. L'Oiseau et la Revue Française d'Ornithologie 59: 305.

Further web sources of information
Explore HBW Alive for further information on this species

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

Text account compilers
Anderson, O., Calvert, R., Mahood, S., McClellan, R., O'Brien, A., Stattersfield, A., Taylor, J., Temple, H.

Bell, B., Bretagnolle, V., Kepler, A., Piazza, A., Raust, P., Rauzon, M., Schreiber, E., Thibault, J., Watling, D.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Symes, A.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Pterodroma alba. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 22/10/2016.

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 - Phoenix petrel (Pterodroma alba) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Endangered
Family Procellariidae (Petrels, Shearwaters)
Species name author (Gmelin, 1789)
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 20,200,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species