Providence petrel (Pterodroma solandri)

Providence petrel portrait
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Providence petrel fact file

Providence petrel description

GenusPterodroma (1)

The providence petrel is a robust seabird confined to two small islands off the east coast of Australia (2) (3). Its plumage is almost uniformly dark grey-brown except for the face and chin, which are mottled white (2), and cream triangular patches visible in flight under the wing (3). It has a stout black bill below dark brown eyes. Males tend to be larger than females and have a more prominent ridge (culmen) running along the upper part of the bill (2). These petrels are silent at sea but over breeding colonies produce a boisterous screech which, remarkably, when imitated by humans can lure the birds to the ground (4).

Length: 40 cm (2)

Providence petrel biology

Earth burrows or rock crevices underneath the forest canopy are the favoured nesting sites of the providence petrel (2). Breeding takes place over winter, at the same time each year, with the female laying just a single egg (7). Following an incubation period of approximately 55 days, shared attentively by both parents, chicks hatch in early to mid-July (8). Once hatched, the parent birds spend most of their time foraging away from the nest, returning only for short periods at night to feed the chick (3). By mid-November most of the chicks will have fledged (9) (10).

With the ability to dive to depths of up to five metres (8), the providence petrel feeds primarily on fish and squid but will also take crustaceans and, on occasion, scavenge for offal cast from fishing boats (2) (8).


Providence petrel range

Breeding populations of the providence petrel are only found on Lord Howe Island, and Philip Island of the Norfolk Island group off the east coast of Australia (2). Non-breeding birds, however, are found all across the western Tasman Sea and the entire north pacific, even recorded as far as Japan (2) (5).

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Providence petrel habitat

Nests are made on forested slopes and mountain summits from sea level up to 900 metres, with adult birds foraging widely at sea, preferring warm waters or the convergence zones between warm and cold currents (2) (6).


Providence petrel status

Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).

IUCN Red List species status – Vulnerable


Providence petrel threats

In 1788, when the first Europeans arrived on Norfolk Island to establish a new penal colony for transported convicts, the population of providence petrel was probably in excess of one million pairs. However, uncontrolled hunting by human settlers and predation by introduced animals swiftly decimated the petrel population. By 1825, the seabird had been extirpated from Norfolk Island, and was not seen for another 150 years, when in 1985 a small population of 20 birds was discovered breeding on Philip Island (2) (11). In contrast, the breeding population on Lord Howe Island was able to withstand the potentially devastating introduction of a range of animals including pigs, cats, goats, rats and owls. Presently, the population on Lord Howe Island is stable with estimates in 2002 of over 32,000 breeding pairs, but with only a small number recorded on Philip Island, the species remains vulnerable to both catastrophic events and human impacts (2). Fortunately, the current human threat to providence petrels on Lord Howe Island is considered negligible compared with mortality caused by natural flooding of burrows and minor predation by the endemic Lord Howe woodhen (2) (9) (12).


Providence petrel conservation

In acknowledgement of its unique biodiversity and natural beauty, Lord Howe Island was declared a World Heritage Site in 1982, and consequently is highly protected and the focus of substantial conservation effort (2) (13). This includes a programme which is currently being planned for the eradication of black rats and house mice from the island (14). Strict quarantine initiatives are also in place on both Lord Howe Island and Philip Island to minimise the risk of introducing invasive pests that could threaten native wildlife (6) (12). In the long-term, and particularly given the threat climate change holds for a species with such a limited range, there is considerable value in assisting in the expansion of a significant breeding population on the Norfolk Island group. Existing proposals include the eradication of mammalian predators from all, or part, of Norfolk Island, and translocation of providence petrel chicks to protected areas (2) (6).

View information on this species at the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre.

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For further information on Lord Howe Island see:

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Authenticated (14/08/09) by Dr David Priddel, Principal Research Scientist, Biodiversity Conservation Science Section, Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW).



Diverse group of arthropods (a phylum of animals with jointed limbs and a hard chitinous exoskeleton) characterised by the possession of two pairs of antennae, one pair of mandibles (parts of the mouthparts used for handling and processing food) and two pairs of maxillae (appendages used in eating, which are located behind the mandibles). Includes crabs, lobsters, shrimps, slaters, woodlice and barnacles.
The act of incubating eggs, that is, keeping them warm so that development is possible.
The movement of a species, by people, from one area to another.


  1. IUCN Red List (April, 2008)
  2. BirdLife International (September, 2008)
  3. Threatened Species Unit. (1999) Threatened Species information: Providence petrel – Pterodroma solandri. NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service, Hurstville. Available at:
  4. Tennyson, A.J.D. and Taylor, G.A. (1990) Behaviour of Pterodroma petrels in response to “war-whoops”. Notornis, 37: 121 - 128.
  5. Kamiya, K. and Kirihara, K. (2005) A providence petrel (Pterodroma solandri) recorded on the Yumigahama coast in Yonago city, western Japan. Journal of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, 37: 72 - 74.
  6. Garnett, S.T. and Crowley, G.M. (2000) The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. Environment Australia, Canberra. Available at:
  7. Bester, A., Klomp, N., Priddel, D. and Carlile, N. (2002) Chick-provisioning behaviour of the providence Petrel, Pterodroma solandri. Emu, 102: 297 - 303.
  8. Bester, A. (2003) The breeding, foraging ecology and conservation of the Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri on Lord Howe Island, Australia. PhD Thesis. Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia.
  9. Bester, A.J., Priddel, D., Klomp, N.I., Carlile, N. and O’Neill, L.E. (2007) Reproductive success of the providence petrel Pterodroma solandri on Lord Howe Island, Australia. Marine Ornithology, 35: 21 - 28.
  10. Binder, D. (2009) Growth, emergence and provisioning of providence petrel chicks: implications for translocation. BASc (hons) Thesis. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia.
  11. Medway, D.G. (2002) History and causes of the extirpation of the providence petrel (Pterodroma solandri) on Norfolk Island. Notornis, 49: 246 - 258.
  12. Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW). (2007) Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan. Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW), Sydney.
  13. World Heritage Centre, UNESCO (September, 2008)
  14. Priddel, D. (2009) Pers. comm.

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Providence petrel portrait  
Providence petrel portrait

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