Newly born, the Desertas Petrel turns into one of Europe’s conservation challenges: are we ready for it?

Desertas petrels. Photo: Iván Ramírez
By Elodie Cantaloube, Fri, 25/07/2014 - 11:40

The 2014 Red List of Birds update gives birth to a new European species, the Desertas Petrel, classified as Vulnerable.

The first time I heard about the Desertas Petrel, all I wanted to do was to climb on the peak of Bugio, one of the Desertas islands part of the Madeira archipelago in Portugal, where the bird breeds, and see this funny little pal with my own eyes.

What I didn’t know while climbing up was that Bugio would offer me an unforgettable wildlife experience: the red rock of the cliffs gives way to a plateau, 342m above sea level, with no trees or shrubs, but hundreds of seabird nests.  As the birds were spending their day at sea or guarding their deep nesting burrows, we could only see them at night – at the time, we didn’t have burrowscopes that would allow us to look inside burrows during daylight.

That was back in 2003 and we believed that the petrels on Bugio were the same species as those breeding in Cape Verde, so-called “Fea’s Petrel”.

The release of the 2014 Red List of Birds update officially treats the birds of the Bugio colony as a species in its own right called Desertas Petrel. This decision is based on solid scientific data, notably genetic studies, collected over the years by many BirdLife and other globally renowned biologists, and is outlined in HBW and BirdLife’s new Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World.

This year’s update involves the addition of 361 new species and the reassessment of over 4,000 bird species. It also tells us that seabirds are one of the most threatened groups of birds worldwide – and the Desertas Petrel is no exception: as soon as it was recognised as a new species, it was assessed as “Vulnerable”. If we are unable to eliminate the threats that currently affect the species, such as habitat deterioration and disturbance, its small population size could result in it becoming Critically Endangered in a relatively short period of time.

BirdLife is the Red List Authority for birds for the renowned IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, which provides an authoratative overview of the species most in need of conservation action. The 2014 update will help the BirdLife Partnership redefine its conservation work on the ground and protect species like the Desertas Petrel which require urgent action.

Iván Ramírez,
Head of Conservation at BirdLife Europe


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