Despite being similar in appearance to other heavily-built, sooty-black petrels, the spectacled petrel is readily distinguished by the white patches, or ‘spectacles’, that mark its face (2) (3) (4). The extent of these markings, however, is highly variable, with the spectacles sometimes being incomplete (2) (3) (4) (5). The robust, hooked bill is pale yellow, or horn, in colour, while the legs are dark, and, in flight, the underside of the wings may appear silvery (2) (3). For a long time, the spectacled petrel was considered a subspecies of the more widely distributed white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis), but is now treated as a separate species on account of several distinctive morphological, behavioural and genetic traits (2) (3) (6).
- Also known as
- Procellaria aequinoctialis conspicillata.
- Length: 55 cm (2)
- 1010 - 1315 g (3)
Spectacled petrel biology
An adept open ocean forager, the spectacled petrel typically feeds on squid, crustaceans and small fish (2) (3), but is also known to regularly scavenge for offal thrown from ships, and to attempt to seize bait from the hooks of long lines (3) (5). Little is known about its reproductive biology, but egg-laying generally commences around mid-October, with a single egg being incubated in a nest burrow (3). The incubation and fledgling periods are unknown, but are presumed to be similar to those of the white-chinned petrel at 57 to 62 days and 87 to 106 days respectively (3) (5). The main natural predator of the spectacled petrel, and especially of fledglings, is the southern skua (Catharacta Antarctica) (2).
Spectacled petrel range
The spectacled petrel only breeds on the remote South Atlantic island of Inaccessible, in the Tristan da Cunha group. Outside the breeding season, it is mostly restricted to the Atlantic region, with most birds dispersing to the coastal waters off southern Brazil, while small numbers may also be seen off the west coast of southern Africa. Historically, it may have also ranged across the Indian Ocean, and possibly bred on Amsterdam Island, part of the French Southern Territories (2) (3).
Spectacled petrel habitat
The spectacled petrel breeds in wet heath above 380 metres on Inaccessible Island’s western plateau, with the burrows constructed along the banks of river valleys and in adjacent marshy areas (2) (3).
Spectacled petrel status
Classified as Vulnerable (VU) on the IUCN Red List (1).
Spectacled petrel threats
Having being pushed to the brink of extinction by feral pig predation (now eradicated) during the 19th and early 20th centuries, the spectacled petrel has since recovered significantly, with the population in 2007 estimated at between 20,000 to 50,000 birds (2). Nonetheless, there is still huge concern over the impact of longline fisheries on this species, with large numbers reportedly taken as bycatch (2) (7). In addition, the highly restricted breeding range of the spectacled petrel makes it incredibly vulnerable to stochastic events and human activities (2).
Spectacled petrel conservation
The spectacled petrel is listed on Appendix II of the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and Annex 1 of the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP), both of which serve to promote international collaboration in the conservation and management of this species (2) (8) (9). In addition, owing to the unique fauna and flora that populate Inaccessible, the island has recently been included in the Gough and Inaccessible Islands World Heritage Site. Consequently, the spectacled petrel’s only breeding locality is now managed according to a management plan recommended by UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) which should ensure its long-term preservation (10). Ongoing studies and population assessments are also a priority for the conservation of the spectacled petrel, with researchers hoping to quantify the level at which this seabird is taken as bycatch in longline fisheries (2).
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- In the fishing industry, the part of the catch made up of non-target species.
- 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.
- Stochastic events
- Seemingly random, uncertain events or factors, such as hurricanes, disease epidemics, fires etc.
- A population usually restricted to a geographical area that differs from other populations of the same species, but not to the extent of being classified as a separate species.
IUCN Red List (October, 2008)
BirdLife International (November, 2009)
Brooke, M. (2004) Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
Sinclair, I., Hockey, P., Hayman, P. and Arlott, N. (2005) The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town.
del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J. (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World – Ostrich to Ducks. Vol. 1. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
Jaramillo, A. (2004) Elevate Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata to species rank. Proposal to South American Classification Committee, 120.
Ryan, P.G., Dorse, C. and Hilton, G.M. (2006) The conservation status of the spectacled petrel Procellaria conspicillata. Biological Conservation, 131: 575-583.
Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) (November, 2009)
Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP) (November, 2009)
World Heritage Centre, UNESCO (November, 2009)