Biodiversity

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 marine
Listed migratory - JAMBA
Adopted/Made Recovery Plans
Other EPBC Act Plans Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007b) [Recovery Plan].
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines Marine bioregional plan for the Temperate East Marine Region (Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities (DSEWPaC), 2012aa) [Admin Guideline].
 
Federal Register of
    Legislative Instruments
List of Migratory Species (13/07/2000) (Commonwealth of Australia, 2000b) [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
NSW:Providence Petrel -Profile (NSW Department of Environment, Climate Change and Water (NSW DECCW), 2005ok) [Internet].
NSW:Providence Petrel Threatened Species Information (NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NSW NPWS), 1999cm) [Information Sheet].
State Listing Status
NSW: Listed as Vulnerable (Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (New South Wales): December 2013 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Vulnerable (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
NGO: Listed as Vulnerable (The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2010)
Scientific name Pterodroma solandri [1040]
Family Procellariidae:Procellariiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Gould,1844)
Infraspecies author  
Reference  
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

Scientific Name: Pterodroma solandri

Common Name: Providence Petrel

Other Names: Bill Hill Muttonbird, Bird-of-Providence, Brown Headed or Solander's Petrel

The Providence Petrel is considered to be a conventially accepted species (Christidis & Boles 1994; Marchant & Higgins 1990; Peters 1986; Sibley & Monroe 1990).

The Providence Petrel is a large, robust, greyish-brown petrel with a wingspan of around 95–105 cm (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The head, wings and tail are browner than the rest of the body, and the plumage is subtly scalloped on the head and forehead. The underwings are dark grey, fringed with white primary feathers and underwing-covets with brown tips (Pizzey & Knight 1999). The sexes are alike. Immatures are similar to adults but may have white-edged feathers on their back, and a slightly slimmer bill (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

In flight they are often slow and easy, but may display typical gadfly behaviour in high winds, weaving and arcing over the water's surface (Pizzey & Knight 1999).

The Providence Petrel has a pelagic distribution which, particularly during non-breeding season, is poorly known. Their distribution is thought to be mainly subtropical in the south-west Pacific Ocean, including the northern Tasman Sea. In non-breeding season, Providence Petrels have been observed in eastern Australian waters in most months, although they appear to be rare or absent from December to February. During the non-breeding season, they reach as far as waters off Japan and 56° N in the Gulf of Alaska (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reid et al. 2002). In the North Pacific, they are reported to roam more widely west and east in non-breeding than in breeding season (Marchant & Higgins 1990). During the breeding season, they are found in waters off the eastern Australian coast to the southern Tasman sea (to 47° S), generally staying close to the breeding areas. They have been observed in moderate numbers near the edge of the continental shelf off eastern Australia.

Current records of the species come from waters between Fraser Island and south-east Tasmania from March to November; most often off the northern NSW and south-eastern Queensland coasts, where they are regularly sighted from April to October. Recorded numbers decline going southward, although they are a regular visitor to offshore waters of east Bass Strait and the Tasman Sea east of Tasmania, from autumn to late spring (Marchant & Higgins 1990; Reid et al. 2002).

Providence Petrels breed only in Australian territories. The Providence Petrel once bred in large numbers on Norfolk Island, but was driven to extinction between 1790 and 1800 by human predation and introduced mammals such as Pigs (Sus scrofa) and Goats (Capra hircus) (Hutton 1991). It was discovered breeding on nearby Phillip Island in 1985, where a small colony remains. Likewise, the species was once common on Lord Howe Island, but suffered a severe reduction in numbers following the establishment of human settlements, and the arrival of pigs and rats. The Providence Petrel continues to survive and breed on Lord Howe Island, but was possibly more widespread before the arrival of pigs (Bester 2007; Marchant & Higgins 1990). Lord Howe Island is the world's last remaining breeding stronghold (Bester 2007). However, their breeding grounds on Lord Howe Island have been restricted to the remote, precipitous summits of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower (Bester 2007).

The current extent of occurrence of the Providence Petrel is estimated to be 1 000 000 km² (Garnett & Crowley 2000). This estimate is considered to be of low reliability, given the pelagic nature of this species. The extent of occurrence is currently stable.

The area of occupancy is estimated, with high reliability, to be 3 km² (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The area of occupancy is currently stable, and encompasses the known breeding area on two small islands: Lord Howe Island and Phillip Island, in the Norfolk Island Group.

During the non-breeding season, Providence Petrels have been observed migrating to the North Pacific and Bering Sea. There are tentative sight records from the mid Pacific, off Hawaii, in April, October and November. There are two beachcast records from New Zealand. Some juveniles and non-breeders are present in the North Pacific, with reported from Japanese waters and near Ryukyu Island, as well as from the Gulf of Alaska. They have been observed up to 20° N in east tropical Pacific; in the Subarctic Current, between 47–56° N and 144–180° W and off northern California (Marchant & Higgins 1990).
While non-breeding birds wander and forage throughout the Pacific Ocean, the Providence Petrel breeds solely in Australia. Thus, any threats to the species outside of Australian territory will affect the numbers of breeding birds returning to Australia.

The Providence has not been well surveyed historically. It was described by Gould in 1844, from a specimen collected in the Bass Strait. Recently however, Bester (2003) has surveyed the population on Lord Howe Island as part of his PhD thesis. This included surveys of all areas currently and previously known to contain breeding birds (Bester 2007).

The total population size of the Providence Petrel is estimated to be just over 100 000 birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The species breeds in two subpopulations. In 2000, approximately 100 000 birds were estimated to occur in the Lord Howe Island subpopulation. A comprehensive survey of all currently and historically known locations resulted in an estimate of 32 000 breeding pairs. At least 20 pairs currently breeding on Phillip Island (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Population numbers of the Providence Petrel declined rapidly following settlement of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands in the late 18th century. More than 171 000 Lord Howe Island birds were reportedly slaughtered by convicts and garrison after the sinking of the supply ship HMS Sirius in 1790 (Bester 2007). The species was extinct on Norfolk Island by 1800, as a result of intense hunting and the effects of introduced pests such as goats and pigs (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

In 1975, an estimated 27 000 breeding pairs bred on Mt Gower, Lord Howe Island, with estimated total population of 96 000 (Fullagar, in Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species was discovered breeding on Phillip Island, near Norfolk Island, in 1985, with at least 20 birds seen and at least four nesting burrows found (Hermes et al. 1986).

Population numbers of the Providence Petrel are currently thought to be stable (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The generation length of the Providence Petrel is estimated, with low reliability, to be 10 years (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Providence Petrel is a marine, pelagic seabird that inhabits the subtropical and tropical waters of the south-west Pacific Ocean. Its sea surface temperature preferences during the breeding season are not known, but it appears more common over the warm waters off eastern Australia. During the non-breeding season the species ranges over widely varying sea temperatures, from 3.5–28 °C, concentrating over convergences of cold and warm currents (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Tasman Sea and eastern continental shelf may be favoured feeding grounds for breeding birds (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

On Lord Howe Island, Providence Petrels nest in burrows or rock crevices on the forested upper slopes and summits of the remote mountains, up to 600 m above sea level. Smaller numbers of birds nest at lower altitudes on grassy slopes within tall Kentia Palm (Howea forsteriana) forests (Bester et al. 2002; Marchant & Higgins 1990). In the Norfolk Island group, they nest on the cliffs atop Phillip Island.

Like other petrels, the Providence Petrel has a relatively low reproductive rate, laying one egg per year, and taking many years to reach sexual maturity (Bester 2007). Burrow flooding is a major cause of egg and chick mortality. However, on Lord Howe Island predation by the Endangered Lord Howe Woodhen accounts for about one third of eggs and chicks lost. The introduced Masked Owl (Tyto novaehollandiae) also predates on the chicks of the Providence Petrel. Despite the loss of chicks, the overall breeding success on Lord Howe Island is estimated to be 34–43%, towards the higher end for petrels (Bester 2007).

In contrast to most seabirds, the Providence Petrel breeds in winter (Bester 2007). Courtship begins in February, with groups of calling birds chasing potential mates over the colony in wheels and dives round the mountain tops (Marchant & Higgins 1990). A single white, elliptical, unglossed egg is laid, with no replacement if the egg/chick is lost. Laying occurs in mid to late May, hatching from mid-July after an eight week incubation period. Both sexes incubate the egg and feed the chick. Feeding predominately occurs at night, when adults return briefly to the breeding colonies (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Providence Petrels are thought to feed predominately on squid and fish, with crustaceans and offal less important (Bester 2007; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

At sea, Providence Petrels prefer to forage over warmer waters, such as those off the east Australian coast. Flocks of up to 50 individuals have been observed (Nakamura & Tanaka 1977, in Marchant & Higgins 1990). They will reportedly forage near fishing boats, but do not commonly follow them (Marchant and Higgins, 1990). Bioluminescent and vertically migrating prey have been found to occur in the diet of the species, suggesting that the Providence Petrel commonly forages at night (Bester 2007; McKean, in Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Providence Petrels have been observed feeding in mixed feeding flocks with Buller's Shearwaters (Puffinus bullerii), and in association with Humpback Whales (Megaptera novaeangliae).

The Providence Petrel is a trans-equatorial migrant, although its movements into the north-east Pacific are poorly known. Most migrants appear to move into the western North Pacific and spread out widely to the west and east (Marchant & Higgins 1990). It appears that not all individuals migrate however, as the species is recorded in Australian waters in all months of the year. Similarly, juveniles and non-breeding adults probably remain in the Northern Hemisphere throughout the winter breeding season (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Migrating birds leave Lord Howe Island from late October to early November, and most birds have left Australian waters by December. Breeding individuals return in late February-March, with the highest densities observed off the continental shelf of mainland eastern Australia and Tasmania between March and November (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

On Lord Howe Island, breeding birds were observed to return to feed their chicks at night, and generally only once every four days. This suggests that breeding birds travel significant distances from Lord Howe Island (Bester et al. 2002).

Although thousands of individuals congregate at the densely packed breeding grounds, Providence Petrels vigorously defend the area close to their burrows. The average density of burrows on Lord Howe Island is 4.8/25 m² (±4.5), with a maximum of 13/25 m² (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Radio telemetry studies have shown that individuals travel significant distances from the colonies to forage within state, Commonwealth and international waters (Bester 2007).

The Providence Petrel may appear similar to dark morphs of Kermadec Petrels (P. neglecta), Herald Petrels (P. heraldica) and Round Island Petrels (P. arminjoniana), although the latter is unlikely to occur in the Pacific Ocean. The species is also similar to the Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera gouldi) which has a similar pale face contrasting with dark plumage, but is generally darker than the Providence Petrel with a totally dark underwing (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

At sea, the Providence Petrel is generally solitary, silent and does not follow ships, making it difficult to detect (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Over the breeding colonies however, they are vocal and more obvious.

The breeding population of Providence Petrels is now confined to two mountain tops on Lord Howe Island and a tiny islet in the Norfolk Island Group (Phillip Island). While it is not recorded to regularly follow fishing boats, its foraging distribution overlaps with areas fished by longline fisheries. Fishing line and metal traces have been found in some birds, suggesting that they may be vulnerable to interactions with longlines and other fishing gear.

On Lord Howe Island, Providence Petrels have withstood introductions of feral pigs, cats, goats, Black Rats (Rattus rattus) and predatory Masked Owls (Tyto novaehollandiae castaneothorax), but remain vulnerable to catastrophic events such as cyclones, severe storms and introduced predators or diseases (DEW 2007a; Garnett & Crowley 2000).

Garnett & Crowley (2000) recommended the following recovery actions be undertaken for the Providence Petrel:

  • Census sub-population on Lord Howe Island at least once every ten years.
  • Census sub-population on Phillip Island every three years.
  • Establish cooperative rodent control programs, including rat baiting, throughout Norfolk Island, with a view to rat eradication. Monitor efficacy.
  • Eradicate rats from Lord Howe Island.
  • Enhance cat trapping on Norfolk Island and monitor their efficacy.

The following recovery actions are currently underway (Garnett & Crowley 2000):

  • The Phillip Island breeding sub-population is monitored by the Norfolk Island Flora and Fauna Society.
  • Strict quarantine measures are is maintained on any vessels visiting Phillip Island.
  • Rat baiting and cat trapping is occurring in Norfolk Island National Park.
  • Responsible cat ownership on Norfolk Island is being encouraged through sponsorship of a cat de-sexing clinic, and a ban on the importation of reproductively-competent cats is being supported.

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 Providence Petrel has been identified as a conservation value in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region. See Schedule 2 of the Temperate East Marine Bioregional Plan (DSEWPaC 2012aa) for regional advice. Maps of Biologically Important Areas have been developed for Providence Petrel in the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region and may provide additional relevant information. Go to the conservation values atlas to view the locations of these Biologically Important Areas. The "species group report card - seabirds" for the Temperate East (DSEWPaC 2012aa) Marine Region provides additional information.

A PhD on Providence Petrels on Lord Howe Island was undertaken by Bester (2003).

There are currently no recovery, conservation or threat abatement plans for the Providence Petrel. However, a brief outline of management recommendations is provided in the Action Plan for Australian Birds (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan contains management actions to assist in the recovery of the species on the island.

The Providence Petrel is also included in the draft East Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the East Marine Region (DEWHA 2007a).

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
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Incidental capture and drowning by longline fishing Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007b) [Recovery Plan].
Biological Resource Use:Fishing and Harvesting Aquatic Resources:Mortality due to capture, entanglement/drowning in nets and fishing lines Pterodroma solandri in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006sy) [Internet].
Biological Resource Use:Hunting and Collecting Terrestrial Animals:Direct exploitation by humans including hunting Pterodroma solandri in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006sy) [Internet].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat loss, modification and/or degradation Norfolk Island Region Threatened Species Recovery Plan (Director of National Parks (DNP), 2010a) [State Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Habitat Shifting and Alteration:Habitat modification, destruction and alteration due to changes in land use patterns Norfolk Island Region Threatened Species Recovery Plan (Director of National Parks (DNP), 2010a) [State Recovery Plan].
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Storms and Flooding:flooding Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007b) [Recovery Plan].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Decline in habitat quality Norfolk Island Region Threatened Species Recovery Plan (Director of National Parks (DNP), 2010a) [State Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) The threat posed by pest animals to biodiversity in New South Wales (Coutts-Smith, A.J., P.S. Mahon, M. Letnic & P.O. Downey, 2007) [Management Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Rattus rattus (Black Rat, Ship Rat) Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007b) [Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Capra hircus (Goat) Pterodroma solandri in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006sy) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Grazing, tramping, competition and/or habitat degradation Sus scrofa (Pig) Pterodroma solandri in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage (DEH), 2006sy) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or habitat degradation Ardenna pacifica (Wedge-tailed Shearwater) Norfolk Island Region Threatened Species Recovery Plan (Director of National Parks (DNP), 2010a) [State Recovery Plan].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition, predation and/or habitat degradation Gallirallus philippensis (Buff-banded Rail) Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan (NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC), 2007b) [Recovery Plan].

Bester, A. (2003). The breeding, foraging and conservation of the Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri breeding on Lord Howe Island, Australia. Ph.D. Thesis. Albury, Australia: Charles Sturt University.

Bester, A. (2007). Birds of the Mist. Wingspan. 17 (2):32-33.

Bester, A., N. Klomp, D. Priddle & N. Carlile (2002). Chick-provisioning behaviour of the Providence Petrel, Pterodroma solandri. Emu. 102:297-303.

Christidis, L. & W.E. Boles (1994). The Taxonomy and Species of Birds of Australia and its Territories. Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union Monograph 2. Melbourne, Victoria: Royal Australasian Ornithologists Union.

Department of the Environment and Water Resources (DEW) (2007a). Draft East Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the East Marine Region.

Garnett, S.T. & G.M. Crowley (2000). The Action Plan for Australian Birds 2000. [Online]. Canberra, ACT: Environment Australia and Birds Australia. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/action/birds2000/index.html.

Hermes, N., O. Evans & B. Evans (1986). Norfolk Island birds: a review. Notornis. 33:141-149.

Hutton, I. (1991). Birds of Lord Howe Island: Past and Present. Coffs Harbour, NSW: author published.

Marchant, S. & P.J.Higgins, eds. (1990). The Handbook of Australian, New Zealand and Antarctic Birds, Volume 1 Part a - Rattites to Petrels. Melbourne, Victoria: Oxford University Press.

NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change (NSW DECC) (2007b). Lord Howe Island Biodiversity Management Plan. [Online]. Sydney, NSW: NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/recovery/lord-howe/index.html.

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.).

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

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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 solandri in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Sun, 13 Jul 2014 14:04:58 +1000.