Happy birthday Monteiro’s!
The Monteiro’s Storm-petrel lives on only five tiny islets of the Azores where its faces a bevy of threats, ranging from sea pollution and habitat loss to competition with fisheries for food.
This year, bird lovers are celebrating the tenth birthday of the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel Hydrobates monteiroi. This small seabird, endemic to the Azores archipelago, was long considered to be the same species as the Band-rumped Storm-petrel Hyrdobates castro. However, following many years of research conducted by Luis Monteiro (formerly of the University of the Azores) followed by Mark Bolton, fundamental differences were established between their respective breeding habits, moults, morphologies and genetic make-up. And so, in 2008, the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel was officially recognised as a separate species.
While the Band-rumped Storm-petrel breeds in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, the Monteiro’s breeds on only five tiny islets of the Azores, far out amongst the thrashing waves of the North Atlantic some 1,360 km west of continental Portugal. The species is listed as Vulnerable by the IUCN as it has a very small population of around 300 breeding pairs. The reason for this is the arsenal of threats confronting the species: sea pollution, habitat loss, competition with fisheries for food and both native (gulls) and non-native (cats, rats) predators. Such threats have an especially destructive effect on this kind of seabird species since it only produces a single egg each year, with no second chance to lay another should their chick fail to hatch.
BirdLife’s Portuguese partner, SPEA, has been leading efforts to protect this rare seabird. As part of the LuMinAves project to reduce the harmful effects of artificial light on the seabirds of Macaronesia, SPEA have been using automatic recording units and capture-mark-recapture methodology to estimate the population size of the Monteiro’s colonies on the Azores islets. Meanwhile, the MisticSeas II project aims to implement a new coordinated sub-regional approach to monitoring marine biodiversity in these waters.
SPEA has also been central to the elaboration of an international Species Action Plan (SAP) for the conservation of the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel. The plan is one of main pillars of LIFE EuroSAP – an ambitious project led by BirdLife International to protect sixteen iconic species on a continental scale by forging strong working partnerships between NGOs, researchers, governments and interest groups such as local school and private companies.
The focus of these partnerships has been on identifying ongoing threats and proposing workable counter-measures. For example, NGOs can work with local authorities to improve urban and rural waste management systems in order to curb the exponential increase of gulls which prey upon the small seabird. Similarly, measures can be taken to remove predatory invasive alien species, such as Madeiran Wall Lizards, that have been accidentally introduced to the islet. Habitat conditions on neighbouring islets could also be adapted in order to encourage the petrel to increase its breeding range.
Finally, in May of this year, after three years of hard work, the Monteiro’s Storm-petrel received the best tenth birthday present it could possibly get – formal approval of its international action plan by the European Commission. It’s time to put the best laid plans of Monteiro and men into action!
SPEA Azores Conservation officer
LuMinAves and MisticSeas II projects
SPEA (BirdLife Portugal)
Marine Conservation Officer
SPEA (BirdLife Portugal)
 The LIFE EuroSAP project is funded by the European Commission out of the LIFE fund for environmental and climate action. The three year project, launched in 2015, is coordinated by BirdLife International in partnership with nine BirdLife partners – RSPB (UK), LPO (France), SEO/Birdlife Spain, SPEA (Portugal), NABU (Germany), HOS (Greece), VBN (Netherlands), SOF (Sweden), LOD (Lithuania) – along with FACE (Federation of Associations for Hunting and Conservation of the EU), VCF (Vulture Conservation Foundation) and AEWA (African-Eurasian Migratory Waterbird Agreement).