Parkinson's petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni)

Also known as: Black petrel
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderProcellariiformes
FamilyProcellariidae
GenusProcellaria (1)
SizeLength: up to 46 cm (2)
Wingspan: up to 115 cm (2)
Weight680 - 720 g (2)

Parkinson's petrel is classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

One of many petrels and shearwaters with similar dark plumage and body shape, the Parkinson’s petrel (Procellaria parkinsoni) has a rounded head and bluish-yellow bill with a black tip, which help when identifying this rare species. Parkinson’s petrel is almost uniformly black on the upperparts, although its plumage becomes browner as it ages. The underparts appear silvery and the legs and feet are black (3).

The male Parkinson’s petrel is very similar to the female, except the male is usually slightly larger. The juvenile has a whiter bill (3).

Vocalisations in this species have not been studied in detail, but three distinct calls have so far been monitored. The ‘clack’, a series of staccato calls, is the most common, while a throaty squawk is generally used in disputes. An aerial call may also be given, although this is thought to be quite rare (3) (4).

Parkinson’s petrel breeds only on Great Barrier and Little Barrier Islands in the Hauraki Gulf of New Zealand (5). It is a migratory bird, moving east over the Central Pacific between March and November to Central and South America (2). Recent studies confirm that this species is present in the Colombian Pacific, and vagrants are known to reach as far west as eastern Australia and as far north as Guatemala (5) (6).

Parkinson’s petrel is a pelagic bird, being found predominantly offshore (2) (7). However, to breed this species returns to its favoured nesting sites in podocarp and mixed broadleaf forests, typically on ridges over 500 metres above sea level (2) (5). 

Cephalopods, fish and crustaceans form the majority of this species’ diet (2). Parkinson’s petrel regularly associates with dolphins, following these efficient predators in order to scavenge dismembered fish on the surface (7). In a similar manner, Parkinson’s petrel has been seen to regularly follow trawlers in order to feed on scraps. Prey is typically seized from the water’s surface, although Parkinson’s petrel may also dive to obtain its meal (2).

Parkinson’s petrel typically begins breeding at six years of age and lays a single egg per year (5). Breeding and egg-laying occur exclusively in forests, where the petrel must crash through the tree canopy to reach the ground and climb trees to take off. Using its beak and webbed feet, the petrel digs a burrow, typically one to three metres long, in which to lay the egg (3).

The egg is usually laid around December (5). The male and female will take turns to incubate the egg for a period of around 56 days. The adult petrels alternate between guarding and feeding in shifts, and are typically away from the nest for 8 to 17 days (3). The chick fledges at around three months old, with provisioning of the chick by the adults sometimes continuing for another month (2) (5). Parkinson’s petrel lives for at least 17 years (2).

Parkinson’s petrel has no natural predators though is affected by many species, including cats, dogs, rats and pigs that have been introduced to its surroundings (5).

Numbers of Parkinson’s petrel have declined in recent years. Historically, this species used to occur on both North and South Islands of New Zealand, but is now restricted to just Great and Little Barrier Islands (8). The presence of feral cats on Little Barrier Island up until their eradication in 1983 decreased numbers to just 50 to 100 pairs (9). Other species, such as stray dogs, rats, and feral pigs, still pose a threat to this species (5).

Parkinson’s petrel is highly susceptible to natural disasters, such as fire, due to its extremely limited breeding distribution (8). Deaths can occur when colliding with lights or trawling nets, but these are rare (2).        

Parkinson’s petrel is included in several conservation programmes and on international legislation. It is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species, making it a part of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) (8) (10). ACAP aims to stop or reverse population declines in 28 species from the southern hemisphere, by coordinating action between range states to mitigate known threats to albatross and petrel populations. An action plan has been drawn up which includes many conservation measures to be implemented. These include reducing habitat loss, research and monitoring, eradicating non-native species at breeding sites and reducing fishery related deaths (5).

Within New Zealand, Parkinson’s petrel is protected by the New Zealand Wildlife Act 1953, and is also included in the seabird conservation action plan (11) (12) (13) (14).

Following the eradication of cats from Little Barrier Island in 1980, 249 fledgling Parkinson’s petrels have now been introduced from Great Barrier Island in order to boost the population size. There is a long term study, started in 1996, on Great Barrier Island to try and assess the population and breeding success of this species (5).

Learn more about Parkinson’s petrel and other birds: 

More information on the conservation of petrels:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (November, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Brooke, M. (2004) Albatrosses and Petrels across the World. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Warham, J. (1988) Responses of Pterodroma petrels to man-made sounds. Emu, 88: 109-111.
  5. BirdLife International (November, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/
  6. Estela, F.A., Garcia, C., Johnston-Gonzales, R., Soler, G. and Bessudo, S. (2006) Confirmation of Parkinson’s petrel Procellaria parkinsoni in the Colombian Pacific. Continga, 28: 60-61.
  7. Pitman, R.L. and Balance, L.T. (1992) Parkinson’s petrel distribution and foraging ecology in the eastern Pacific: Aspects of an exclusive feeding relationship with dolphins. The Condor, 94: 825-835.
  8. Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) (November 2010)
    http://www.acap.aq/acap-species.
  9. Imber, M.J. (1987) Breeding ecology and the conservation of the black petrel (Procellaria parksoni). Notornis, 34: 19-39.
  10. Convention on Migratory Species (November, 2010)
    http://www.cms.int/
  11. New ZealandGovernment: New Zealand Reserves Act 1977 (September, 2011)
    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/.
  12. New ZealandGovernment: New Zealand Wildlife Act 1953, No 31 (September, 2011)
    http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1953/0031/latest/DLM276814.ht.
  13. Miskelly, C.M., Dowding, J.E., Elliott, G.P., Hitchmough, R.A.,Powlesland, R.G., Robertson, H.A., Sagar, P.M., Scofield, R.P., and Taylor, G.A. (2008) Conservation status of New Zealand birds.Notornis, 55: 117-135.
  14. Taylor, G.A. (2000) Action Plan for Seabird Conservation in New Zealand.Part A: Threatened Seabirds. Threatened Species Occasional Publication No. 16., Department of Conservation, Wellington.