Species Profile and Threats Database

For information to assist proponents in referral, environmental assessments and compliance issues, refer to the Policy Statements and Guidelines (where available), the Conservation Advice (where available) or the Listing Advice (where available).
In addition, proponents and land managers should refer to the Recovery Plan (where available) or the Conservation Advice (where available) for recovery, mitigation and conservation information.

EPBC Act Listing Status Listed as Vulnerable
Listed marine
Recovery Plan Decision Recovery Plan required, this species had a recovery plan in force at the time the legislation provided for the Minister to decide whether or not to have a recovery plan (19/2/2007).
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans National Recovery Plan for Ten Species of Seabirds 2005-2010 (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2005f) [Recovery Plan].
Other EPBC Act Plans Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats (Environment Australia (EA), 1999b) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the South-west Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012z) [Admin Guideline].
Survey Guidelines for Australia's Threatened Birds. EPBC Act survey guidelines 6.2 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2010l) [Admin Guideline].
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
Declaration under s178, s181, and s183 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of threatened species, List of threatened ecological communities and List of threatening processes (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000) [Legislative Instrument].
Declaration under section 248 of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 - List of Marine Species (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000c) [Legislative Instrument].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Pterodroma mollis (Soft-plumaged Petrel): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014td) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012)
Scientific name Pterodroma mollis [1036]
Family Procellariidae:Procellariiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Gould,1844)
Infraspecies author  
Distribution map Species Distribution Map

This is an indicative distribution map of the present distribution of the species based on best available knowledge. See map caveat for more information.

Illustrations Google Images

The current conservation status of the Soft-plumaged Petrel, Pterodroma mollis, under Australian legislation is as follows:

National: Listed as a Vulnerable and Marine species under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (1999).

Scientific name: Pterodroma mollis

Common name: Soft-plumaged Petrel

There are scientific disagreements on the taxonomy of this species. The species limits are in dispute and the taxonomy of subspecies unresolved (Bretagnolle 1995).

Currently, it is considered that the Australian population, along with the Ile Amsterdam breeders, comprise the subspecies P. m. deceptornis. Nominate P. m. mollis breeds on Gough Island and Antipodes Island, while P. m. dubia breeds on Marion Island, Iles Crozet and Iles Kerguelen (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

Formerly, North Atlantic forms Zino's Petrel P. madeira and Fea's Petrel P. feae were considered conspecific (Cramp & Simmons 1977; Harrison 1983; Peters 1986) but are now often considered distinct species (BirdLife International 2000; del Hoyo et al. 1992; Enticott & Tipling 1997; Sibley & Monroe 1990).

Synonyms include the Soft-plumaged Fulmar (Marchant & Higgins 1990) and Littlest Whitebreast or Whistler (Tristan da Cunha Is; Richardson 1984).

The Soft-plumaged Petrel has a whitish forehead with darker mottling, and a broad blackish eye-mark. The back is blue-grey, wings similar, but with dark brownish slate 'M' shaped band, and the tail is grey. The bill is black. The legs are flesh-pink with black tipped webs (Pizzey & Knight 1999).

The Soft-plumaged Petrel is often seen in small parties flying fast near the surface of the water.

The Soft-plumaged Petrel is generally found over temperate and subantarctic waters in the South Atlantic, southern Indian and western South Pacific Oceans. The species is a regular and quite common visitor to southern Australian seas, but is more common in the west than in the south and south-east (Marchant & Higgins 1990). In the southern Indian Ocean, the species is most numerous between 30° and 50°S from the South African to the west Australian coasts. The species is possibly common in seas south-west of Australia.

Soft-plumaged Petrels breed on Maatsuyker Island off southern Tasmania (Wiltshire & Hamilton 2002). Beachcast birds have been found from Maryborough, Queensland, south to NSW, Tasmania, Victoria, South Australia and south-west Western Australia. Of dated records, 15 of 19 have been found between June-September, but sightings have occurred in most months (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Sightings of this species off south-east Australia are mostly south of Tasmania, between September-April (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reid et al. 2002). The only confirmed Australian breeding station is Maatsuyker Island, south of Tasmania, with six pairs in 2001-02 (Wiltshire & Hamilton 2002).

In the South Atlantic, the Soft-plumaged Petrel is common from 30° to 60°S from the east coast of South America to South Africa. In February, the species has been recorded from 35° to 52°S in the transect from Reunion via Iles Crozet to near Antarctica. Sometimes the species has been recorded south of the Antarctic Convergence. The birds are a regular and common winter visitor to South Africa, Namibia, Argentina, Uruguay and Brazil. The species is an occasional visitor to Mozambique (often beachcast). Soft-plumaged Petrels are rare in New Zealand with records scattered throughout the year (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species breeds colonially on islands in the southern oceans. They also breed in the Indian Ocean.

Globally, the Soft-plumaged Petrel occurs in a number of sub populations:

  • Iles Crozet: 10 000 pairs (Ile de la Possession, 100 pairs; Ile de l'Est, 10 000 pairs; Ile des Pingouins, population unknown; Ile des Aptres, population unknown)
  • Iles Kerguelen: 1000 pairs
  • Prince Edward and Marion Islands: 1000 pairs
  • Ile Amsterdam: population unknown (Marchant & Higgins 1990).
  • Antipodes Islands (south western pacific): several thousand pairs (Heather & Robertson 1997).

In the southern Atlantic Ocean in the Tristan da Cunha Group the following have been recorded:

  • Tristan da Cunha Island: 100-500 pairs
  • Inaccessible Island: 100-1000 pairs
  • Gough Island: 1-10 million pairs (Richardson 1984).

The population of Soft-plumaged Petrels occurring in Australia is unknown. The only known Australian breeding population occurrs on Maatsuyker Island, and consists of less than 10 pairs (Wiltshire & Hamilton 2002).

The generation interval of the Soft-plumaged Petrel is approximately 10 years, but this estimate is of low reliability (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Soft-plumaged Petrel is a marine, oceanic species.

Soft-plumaged Petrels are mainly subantarctic, but occur over a wide range of sea surface-temperatures. They have been observed over waters of 0 to 21°C, and off south-east Australia in temperatures between 9.8 to 21.0°C (Reid et al. 2002). In the Weddell Sea, the species is attracted to areas with icebergs with a surface-temperature of 0.7 to 1.0°C.

Birds breeding at Iles Crozet forage mainly to the north of the islands, over subtropical waters (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The birds breed on islands off Tasmania (n=1), in the New Zealand region (n=1), and in the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans.

The birds burrow among tussock grass and ferns on slopes and valleys.

The species is mainly coastal but occasionally occurs inland (Imber 1983; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Wiltshire & Hamilton 2002).

On Maatsuyker Island, Soft-plumaged Petrels breed among rocks and tussocks (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Elsewhere, the species usually breeds on steep slopes at the heads and sides of valleys or on coastal lava slopes. On Marion Island and Iles Kerguelen the birds breed at medium altitudes (Marchant & Higgins 1990). At Antipodes Island, the burrows are usually in areas well-vegetated with ferns Polystichum sp., tussock-grass Poa sp., and other plants up to 2 m high (Imber 1983). The density of nests on Marion Island was 1.3 nests/ha (Schramm 1986).

At Marion Island, 31 eggs were laid. Of these eggs, nine (29%) hatched, two chicks fledged (22.2%) for a total success of 6.5% (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The birds return to the colonies from August or September (Tristan da Cunha) to November (Marchant & Higgins 1990). At the Antipodes Islands, there is a pre-laying exodus between 22 November and 5 December (Imber 1983), and laying usually takes place between November-December. Fledging is generally between April-May (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

At Maatsuyker Island, there is a similar schedule. Adult birds are present in burrows during September, incubate eggs in January and downy young are present in April (Wiltshire & Hamilton 2002).

The food of the Soft-plumaged Petrel consists mostly of cephalopods, some fish and crustaceans.

During the breeding season at Marion Island, cephalopods recorded were mainly Gonatus antarcticus, Discoteuthis, Chiroteuthis and Teuthowenia spp. At Iles Crozet, cephalopods comprised 100% of the diet by frequency of occurrence (n=6 stomachs). At Prince Edward Island (n=2 stomachs), cephalopod families recorded were Histioteuthidae, Mastigoteuthidae and Cranchiidae (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Fish recorded included Electrona sp.

The main crustaceans were amphipods Eurythenes spp. especially E. obesus, and also mysidaceans Vibilia sp., prawns Sergestes sp. and shrimps Parapasiphae sp.

Soft-plumaged Petrels apparently take food by surface-seizing. Occasionally, they follow cetaceans including pilot whales Globicephalus spp. and Southern Right Whale Dolphins Lissodelphis peronii (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Soft-plumaged Petrels are dispersive or migratory from breeding islands, but their movements in the non-breeding season are poorly documented. The chicks leave Tristan da Cunha from late April to late June (Richardson 1984) and Marion Island in early May (Schramm 1983). The species has been recorded from Antipodes Islands and on Macquarie Island during summer but details of the breeding timetable and the movements of the Pacific population are not known. However, recoveries of beachcast fledglings from New Zealand in May and June suggest a similar timetable to the Indian and Atlantic Ocean populations. In the non-breeding season, birds are widespread in subantarctic waters during both winter and summer. Birds appear to leave the vicinity of Iles Crozet during the non-breeding period but are present throughout the year at Iles Amsterdam and St Paul.

The general movement away from breeding stations appears to be north. In the Indian Ocean, the northern limit of oceanic distribution extends to 22°S during September, compared to 35°S in February. Soft-plumaged Petrels return to their breeding grounds at Tristan da Cunha in August (Richardson 1984). At Iles Crozet birds return to their breeding grounds before 20 September. Around Iles Crozet, most birds are concentrated to the north of islands during February, up to 35°S (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Soft-plumaged Petrel may be confused with other species at a distance. Similar species include the White-headed Petrel P. lessonii, Mottled Petrel P. inexpectata, and Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea. The rare dark morph closely resembles the Kerguelen Petrel Lugensa brevirostris (Marchant & Higgins 1990). However, the combination of the dark grey underwing band and the grey breast band across white underparts should allow distinction at close inspection.

For the Soft-plumaged Petrel, a standardized 10-minute count is usually employed at sea (BIOMASS 1984; Reid et al. 2002). Infrared burrowscope may be useful for detecting burrow occupancy as this has worked for other burrowing petrels, e.g. Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus (Dyer & Hill 1991).

Feral cats Felis catus and Great Skuas Catharacta skua are major predators of the Soft-plumaged Petrel at Marion Island. It is estimated that cats killed 38 000 birds out of a population of more than 400 000 on Marion Island. Cats are also a menace on Iles Kerguelen, Iles Crozet, and have nearly extirpated this species on Ile Amsterdam (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Marchant & Higgins 1990). Rats Rattus spp. also prey upon this species in Iles Crozet (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The species is also susceptible to habitat destruction or alteration, e.g. erosion caused by fur seals Arctocephalus spp. (Woehler, E.J. 2002, pers. comm.).

Marine bioregional plans have been developed for four of Australia's marine regions - South-west, North-west, North and Temperate East. Marine Bioregional Plans will help improve the way decisions are made under the EPBC Act, particularly in relation to the protection of marine biodiversity and the sustainable use of our oceans and their resources by our marine-based industries. Marine Bioregional Plans improve our understanding of Australia's oceans by presenting a consolidated picture of the biophysical characteristics and diversity of marine life. They describe the marine environment and conservation values of each marine region, set out broad biodiversity objectives, identify regional priorities and outline strategies and actions to address these priorities. Click here for more information about marine bioregional plans.

The Soft-plumaged Petrel has been identified as a conservation value in the South-west Marine Region. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the South-west Marine Region provides additional information.

The following table lists known and perceived threats to this species. Threats are based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN) threat classification version 1.1.

Threat Class Threatening Species References
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat modification with associated erosion Pterodroma mollis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vm) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Pterodroma mollis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vm) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation by rats Pterodroma mollis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vm) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Predation, competition, habitat degradation and/or spread of pathogens by introduced species Pterodroma mollis in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006vm) [Internet].

BIOMASS (Biological Investigations of Marine Antarctic and Subantarctic Systems, Working Party on Bird Ecology) (1984). Recording observations of birds at sea. BIOMASS Handbook. 18.

Birdlife International (2000). Threatened Birds of the World. Barcelona, Spain and Cambridge, UK:.BirdLife International and Lynx Edicions.

Bretagnolle, V. (1995). Systematics of the Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis (Procellariidae): new insight from the study of vocalizations. Ibis. 137:207--218.

Cramp, S. & K.E.L. Simmons (Eds) (1977). Handbook of the Birds of Europe the Middle East and North Africa: The Birds of the Western Palearctic. Volume I, Ostrich to Ducks. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliot & J. Sargatal (1992). Ostrich to Ducks. In: Handbook of the Birds of the World. 1. Spain: Lynx Edicions.

Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH) (2005f). National Recovery Plan for Ten Species of Seabirds 2005-2010. [Online]. Available from:

Dyer, P.K. & G.J.E. Hill (1991). A solution to the problem of determining the occupancy status of Wedge-tailed Shearwater Puffinus pacificus burrows. Emu. 91:20--25.

Enticott, J. & D. Tipling (1997). Photographic Handbook of the Seabirds of the World. New Holland, London.

Environment Australia (EA) (1999b). Threat Abatement Plan for Predation by Feral Cats. [Online]. Biodiversity Group, Environment Australia. Available from:

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from:

Harrison, P (1983). Seabirds: An Identification Guide. London: Croom Helm.

Heather, B.D. & H.A. Robertson (2000a). The Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand. Oxford, United Kingdom: Oxford University Press.

Imber, M.J. (1983). The lesser petrels of Antipodes Islands, with notes from Prince Edward and Gough Islands. Notornis. 30:283--298.

Marchant, S. & P.J. Higgins, eds. (1990). Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds. Volume One - Ratites to Ducks. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

Peters, J.L. (1986). Check-list of the Birds of the World. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Pizzey, G. & F. Knight (1999). The Graham Pizzey and Frank Knight Field Guide to the Birds of Australia. Pymble, Sydney: Angus and Robertson.

Reid, T.A., M.A. Hindell, D.W. Eades & M. Newman (2002). Seabird Atlas of South-east Australian Waters. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 4. Melbourne, Victoria: Birds Australia (R.A.O.U.).

Richardson, M.E. (1984). Aspects of the ornithology of the Tristan da Cunha group and Gough Island, 1972-1974. Cormorant. 12:123-201.

Schramm, M. (1983). The breeding biologies of the petrels Pterodroma macroptera, P. brevirostris and P. mollis at Marion Island. Emu. 83:75--81.

Schramm, M. (1986). The diet of chicks of Greatwinged, Kerguelen and Softplumaged Petrels at the Prince Edward Islands. Ostrich. 57:9--15.

Sibley, C.G. & B.L. Monroe (1990). Distribution and Taxonomy of the Birds of the World. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press.

Wiltshire, A. & S. Hamilton (2002). Soft-plumaged Petrels breeding in Tasmania. Wingspan. 12(2):31.

Woehler, E.J. (2002). Personal communication.

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This database is designed to provide statutory, biological and ecological information on species and ecological communities, migratory species, marine species, and species and species products subject to international trade and commercial use protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (the EPBC Act). It has been compiled from a range of sources including listing advice, recovery plans, published literature and individual experts. While reasonable efforts have been made to ensure the accuracy of the information, no guarantee is given, nor responsibility taken, by the Commonwealth for its accuracy, currency or completeness. The Commonwealth does not accept any responsibility for any loss or damage that may be occasioned directly or indirectly through the use of, or reliance on, the information contained in this database. The information contained in this database does not necessarily represent the views of the Commonwealth. This database is not intended to be a complete source of information on the matters it deals with. Individuals and organisations should consider all the available information, including that available from other sources, in deciding whether there is a need to make a referral or apply for a permit or exemption under the EPBC Act.

Citation: Department of the Environment (2014). Pterodroma mollis in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Thu, 17 Apr 2014 21:06:08 +1000.