email a friend
printable version
Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea
BirdLife is updating this factsheet for the 2016 Red List
Please email us with any relevant information

Although there are no current trend data, this species is susceptible to introduced mammalian predators, having been extirpated from Macquarie Island by cats and rats, and today it is the most commonly caught bycatch species in longline fisheries in New Zealand waters. Evidence from Gough Island, formerly thought to contain the largest population of this species, suggest that the species is likely to be subjected to considerable predation from introduced mice that are a major predator on other winter-breeding seabirds. The population on the Kerguelen Islands may also be in decline due to fishery bycatch. Based on these data a moderately rapid decline is suspected and as such the species is listed as Near Threatened, but further data are urgently required in order to more accurately assess its population numbers and trends.

Taxonomic source(s)
Brooke, M. de L. 2004. Albatrosses and Petrels Across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Christidis, L.; Boles, W. E. 2008. Systematics and taxonomy of Australian birds. CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, Australia.
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.
SACC. 2006. A classification of the bird species of South America. Available at: #
Turbott, E. G. 1990. Checklist of the birds of New Zealand. Ornithological Society of New Zealand, Wellington.

48cm. A large (c. 1000g) ash-grey and white petrel with brownish grey mantle, back, uppertail-coverts and upperwings, and dark grey underwings, contrasting with white belly. It readily plunges from heights of up to 10m and swims underwater using wings (Harrison 1983). Similar spp. Differs from White-headed Petrel in having dark grey cap, and from other larger petrels and shearwaters in combination of white underparts and wholly dark underwing (Brooke 2004).

Distribution and population
This species has a circumpolar distribution between 32-58 degrees South, but somewhat to the north in the Humboldt Current and off the east coast of South America (Brooke 2004). It breeds on Gough and other islands in the Tristan da Cunha group (St Helena, to UK), Prince Edward and Marion islands (South Africa), Crozet, Kerguelen and Amsterdam islands (French Southern Territories), Campbell and the Antipodes islands (New Zealand), and Macquarie Island (Australia). Its total population size is poorly known. Its largest breeding populations was believed to be in the Tristan da Cunha group: in the early 1970s, hundreds of thousands were guessed to breed at Gough Island (Richardson 1984). However, the most recent estimate for Gough suggests a population of >10,000 pairs (Cuthbert and Sommer 2004), with pairs only sparse in the uplands (Imber 1983), and thus the population on Gough may be far lower than on the Antipodes (R. Cuthbert in litt. 2008). A small number of pairs also breed on Tristan da Cunha itself, 50-100 pairs estimated in 1972-1974 (Richardson 1984, in Angel and Cooper 2006). The largest population is therefore likely to be on the Antipodes Islands, with 53,000 pairs estimated in 2001 (Bell 2002). In addition, several thousand pairs are estimated at Prince Edward, Crozet and Kerguelen islands, a few hundred on Campbell Island (up to 100 pairs on the main island, and possibly a few hundred on offshore stacks) (Taylor 2000), and at least 59-80 pairs on Macquarie (Schulz et al. 2005). One recent estimate on the Kerguelen Islands gave a figure of 1,900-5,600 breeding pairs, though some nesting sites were not sampled. More recent figures from Crozet (in 2005) indicated the occurrence of 5,500 pairs (ACAP 2012). Only c.10 pairs breed on Amsterdam Island (J.C. Stahl per S. Bartle in litt. 2000), although the fossil record indicates that one of the world's largest colonies probably occurred there (Worthy and Jouventin 1999). There is no population trend data for most of the sites, but based on a population model and data from fisheries, this population may be in decline due to bycatch (Barbraud et al. 2009).

Population justification
Figures suggest a very tentative world population around 400,000 individuals, a figure that could be incorrect by a factor of 2-3 either way (Brooke 2004). A tally of the most recent figures, points to at least 80,000 pairs worldwide, but this figure is thought to be only a rough estimate.

Trend justification
This species is susceptible to introduced mammalian predators, having been extirpated from Macquarie Island by cats and rats, and today, it is the most commonly caught bycatch species in longline fisheries in New Zealand waters. Evidence from Gough Island, formerly thought to contain the largest population of this species, suggest that P. cinerea are likely to be subjected to considerable predation from introduced mice that are a major predator on other winter-breeding seabirds. The population on the Kerguelen Islands may also be in decline due to fishery bycatch (Barbraud et al. 2009). Hence moderately rapid declines are suspected, but further data are urgently required in order to more accurately assess its population numbers and trends.

Behaviour Birds return to the breeding colonies in the austral autumn, first appearing in February and March and often flying in to land during diurnal hours. Eggs are laid in late March and early April, and chicks fledge in late September to early December. The asynchrony in fledging dates within sites and years is thought to reflect food scarcity and variability during the winter rather than asynchrony in laying. The age of first breeding is not known. The species typically forages alone or in groups of three or four, but also occasionally in larger flocks over 50 birds (ACAP 2009). Habitat Breeding It nests in burrows on well-drained areas, often dominated by Poa tussock grass, where the ground may be steep. Diet Its diet has been documented by one study in which cephalopods were the main prey item, followed by fish remains (ACAP 2009). Foraging range Data obtained from seabird bycatch suggest that during the breeding season (austral winter), females forage further north than males, in waters north of the Subtropical Convergence, up to 1,460 km from their colonies on Sub-Antarctic islands (ACAP 2009).

In New Zealand waters, it is the most frequently killed species by the tuna-longline fishery (c.45,000 birds in total could have been caught in the last 20 years [S. Bartle in litt. 2000]) and the selective mortality of adult females could be having a disproportionate impact on the breeding population (Bartle 1990, Murray et al. 1993, Taylor 2000). Substantial incidental mortality has also been recorded in fisheries off Australia, and it may be caught in significant numbers in international waters in the southern Indian Ocean, for which little seabird bycatch information exists (Huyser et al. 1999). Any additional source of mortality that approaches 300 individuals was predicted to result in a population decline at the Kerguelen Islands, well below the strict minimum of 755 taken in the Patagonian fisheries operating around the islands (Barbraud et al. 2009). Introduced predators on the breeding islands are a further serious threat, for example, cats and black rat Rattus rattus on Crozet and Kerguelen, and, until their fairly recent eradication, cats on Marion Island. Brown rats Rattus norvegicus were eradicated from Campbell Island in 2001. The introduction of rats to Antipodes Island would be a major threat (Taylor 2000). Cats and Weka Gallirallus australis were probably responsible for extinction from Macquarie Island and brown rat and cats for its near extinction on Amsterdam. On Gough Island, recent evidence has indicated that introduced house mice Mus musculus are a significant predator of winter-breeding seabirds and are driving population declines of at least two species (Cuthbert and Hilton 2004, Wanless et al. 2007). A review of impacts of mice on Gough Island concludes that petrels are probably predated by mice (Angel and Cooper 2006). Although the impact of this on the population is currently unknown, if predation rates are similar to other winter breeding albatrosses and petrels on Gough then the population is likely to be declining. On Macquarie Island, high rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus numbers have destroyed vegetation and caused soil erosion at nesting sites. Rabbits may also disturb birds in burrows when nesting (Angel and Cooper 2006).

Conservation Actions Underway
CMS Appendix II and ACAP Annex 1. Gough Island is a World Heritage Site. In 2001, a study was conducted on the Antipodes Islands on the feasibility of establishing long term monitoring plots. Brown rats were eradicated from Campbell Island in 2001. In 2006, the South East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (SEAFO) passed a resolution to require all its longline vessels to use a tori line and to set lines at night. In 2007, the New Zealand government began a five year study of Procellaria petrels on Antipodes Island which will investigate issues such as population size and trends, annual survival rates of adults and breeding frequency. Geolocation loggers and other tracking devices will be applied to birds to determine foraging zones and migration routes (G. Taylor in litt. 2008). Conservation Actions Proposed
Census the population on all the breeding islands. Conduct regular monitoring of a representative proportion of the population. Determine if predation by mice is a serious threat on Gough Island. Determine the at-sea distribution of the species through tracking studies and the interaction with longline fisheries. Promote the adoption of a) monitoring of seabird bycatch associated with longline fishing and b) best-practice mitigation measures in all fisheries within the species's range, particularly via intergovernmental mechanisms such as ACAP, the FAO, and Regional Fisheries Management Organisations.

Related state of the world's birds case studies

ACAP. 2009. ACAP Species Assessment: Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea. Available at: #

Angel, A.; Cooper, J. 2006. A review of the impacts of introduced rodents on the islands of Tristan and Gough. RSPB, Sandy, U.K.

Barbraud, C.; Delord, K.; Marteau, C.; Weimerskirch, H. 2009. Estimates of population size of White-chinned Petrels and Grey Petrels at Kerguelen Islands and sensitivity to fisheries. Animal Conservation 12(3): 258-265.

Bartle, J. A. 1990. Sexual segregation of foraging zones in procellariform birds: implications of accidental capture on commercial fishery longlines of Grey Petrels (Procellaria cinerea). Notornis 37: 146-149.

Bell, E. 2002. Grey Petrels (Procellaria cinerea) on Antipodes Island, New Zealand: research feasibility, April-June 2001.

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

Cuthbert, R.; Hilton, G. 2004. Introduced house mice Mus musculus: a significant predator of threatened and endemic birds on Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean? Biological Conservation 117: 483-489.

Cuthbert, R.; Sommer, E.S. 2004. Population size and trends of four globally threatened seabirds at Gough Island, South Atlantic Ocean. Marine Ornithology 32: 97-103.

Harrison, P. 1985. Seabirds: an identification guide. Christopher Helm, London.

Huyser, O. A. W.; Nel, D. C.; Cooper, J. 1999. Proposals from the Republic of South Africa for amendments to Appendix II of the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Speices of Wild Animals (the Bonn Convention).

Imber, M. J. 1983. The lesser petrels of Antipodes Islands, with notes from Prince Edward and Gough Islands. Notornis 30: 283-289.

Murray, T. E.; Bartle, J. A.; Kalish, S. R.; Taylor, P. R. 1993. Incidental capture of seabirds by Japenese southern bluefin tuna longline vessels in New Zealand waters, 1988-1992. Bird Conservation International 3: 181-210.

Richardson, M. E. 1984. Aspects of the ornithology of the Tristan da Cunha group and Gough Island, 1972-1974. Cormorant 12: 123-201.

Schulz, M.; Robinson, S.; Gales, R. 2005. Breeding of the Grey Petrel (Procellaria cinerea) on Macquarie Island: population size and nesting habitat. Emu 105: 323-329.

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

Wanless, R. M.; Angel, A.; Cuthbert, R. J.; Hilton, G. M.; Ryan, P. G. 2007. Can predation by invasive mice drive seabird extinctions? Biology Letters 3: 241-244.

Worthy, T. H.; Jouventin, P. 1999. The fossil avifauna of Amsterdam Island, Indian Ocean. Smithsonian Contributions to Paleobiology 89: 39-65.

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., Small, C., Stattersfield, A., Sullivan, B., Symes, A.

Bartle, S., Cuthbert, R., Garnett, S., Stahl, J.-C., Taylor, G.

IUCN Red List evaluators
Butchart, S., Taylor, J.

Recommended citation
BirdLife International (2016) Species factsheet: Procellaria cinerea. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2016) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from on 25/10/2016.

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 - Grey petrel (Procellaria cinerea) 0

Key facts
Current IUCN Red List category Near Threatened
Family Procellariidae (Petrels, Shearwaters)
Species name author Gmelin, 1789
Population size mature individuals
Population trend Decreasing
Distribution size (breeding/resident) 74,400,000 km2
Country endemic? No
Links to further information
- Additional Information on this species