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Gould's Petrel

Pterodroma leucoptera

Gould's petrel, a small gadfly petrel, presents a striking contrast with its white underparts and a dark brown and grey upper side. The bird is characterized by long, narrow wings and a short, rounded tail. The head is notably dark, adorned with a white forehead and face. With a body length of 30 cm, a wingspan of 70 cm, and a weight ranging between 180–200 g, males are marginally larger than females.

Identification Tips

This species can be identified by the distinctive dark M pattern across its upper wings, a feature common to members of the subgenus Cookilaria. The robust bill, pale back, and reduced pigmentation on the underside of the wing are also notable characteristics, particularly in the New Caledonian subspecies.

Habitat

Gould's petrel nests in a variety of settings, including amongst rocks and boulders, under fallen palm fronds, in hollow trunks of fallen palms, and between buttresses of fig trees. On New Caledonia, they prefer burrows in steep forested valleys.

Distribution

The nominate subspecies of Gould's petrel breeds on several small islands off the New South Wales coast in Australia, with a significant presence on Cabbage Tree Island. The New Caledonian subspecies is found breeding in the central mountain chain of New Caledonia and a small colony on Raivavae in French Polynesia. Both subspecies forage in the Tasman Sea and may venture as far as the Indian Ocean and the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.

Behaviour

Gould's petrels are monogamous, forming long-term pair bonds and exhibiting a lengthy breeding season. They spend the majority of their lives at sea, coming ashore solely to breed. The Australian subspecies has a unique nesting habit, not using burrows but rather nesting in more exposed conditions.

Breeding

The breeding season begins in mid-October when birds arrive to secure nest sites and reunite with mates. A single egg is laid between late November and early December, with incubation lasting 6–7 weeks. Chicks fledge in April to May after reaching a body mass of 160–180 g.

Similar Species

The collared petrel is sometimes considered a subspecies of Gould's petrel, and the New Caledonian petrel is occasionally elevated to species status, with all three taxa forming a superspecies complex.

Diet and Feeding

Gould's petrels feed on small cephalopods and fish. They experience substantial variation in foraging success and can go without food during lengthy incubation shifts.

Conservation Status

The Australian subspecies has seen a remarkable recovery from endangered to vulnerable, with a population increase to over 1,000 pairs. The New Caledonian subspecies, however, is estimated at 10,000 individuals and is decreasing, also classified as vulnerable due to its restricted breeding range.

Threats

The nominate subspecies faces threats from potential feral predators and wildfires, particularly during the incubation period. The New Caledonian subspecies is threatened by introduced predators such as pigs and rats, as well as light pollution in Nouméa. At sea, the specific threats to Gould's petrels remain unknown, though they are not known to be directly affected by long-line fishing operations.

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Gould's Petrels on Birda

Sightings
A map showing the sighting location
Profile picture for Ed Jenkins
Ed Jenkins
01 Jan 1900 - 12:00am
New Zealand

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