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 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].
 
Policy Statements and Guidelines 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].
 
Information Sheets Information Sheet - Harmful marine Debris (Environment Australia, 2003ac) [Information Sheet].
 
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:Halobaena caerulea (Blue Petrel): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014vl) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Vulnerable (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012 list)
Non-statutory Listing Status
IUCN: Listed as Least Concern (Global Status: IUCN Red List of Threatened Species: 2013.1 list)
Scientific name Halobaena caerulea [1059]
Family Procellariidae:Procellariiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author (Gmelin,1789)
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

The current conservation status of the Blue Petrel, Halobaena caerulea, under Australian legislation is as follows:

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

Scientific name: Halobaena caerulea

Common name: Blue Petrel

The Blue Petrel is a small petrel with a wing span of about 65 cm. It is the only small petrel with a square white tail-tip. Its dark crown extends to below the eye, down the nape and forms a large dark patch on the side of the neck. The forehead, throat and ear-notch are a contrasting white. The Blue Petrel is blue-grey above and white below (including underwings). A conspicuous dark M-shaped band crosses the blue-grey upperwings. The tail is blue-grey with a narrow sub-terminal dark band and conspicuous square white tip. The legs and feet are blue with pink webs (Pizzey & Knight 1999).

The Blue Petrel is gregarious. It usually occurs in small, loose flocks of up to a hundred, but sometimes occurs in flocks of several thousand close to breeding islands. It breeds in dense but discrete colonies (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel has been recorded off the Australian coast between East Gippsland in Victoria and the Perth area of Western Australia, but there are few records of it in the Great Australian Bight between Kangaroo Island and Esperance. It is recorded regularly in small numbers in Victoria and Tasmania, and occasionally in NSW. The Blue Petrel is rarely recorded north of 37° south on the east coast of Australia, and has not been recorded north of 32° south in southwestern Australia. It occurs predominantly between July and September in Australia (Coyle 1993; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel previously bred on Macquarie Island, but breeding is now restricted to offshore stacks near Macquarie Island (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Blue Petrel has a circumpolar distribution, ranging south to the pack-ice and north to about 30° south. It reaches 20° south in the Humboldt Current off Peru in winter. It is an uncommon winter and spring visitor to Australia and New Zealand (Coyle 1993; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The estimated breeding population size on subantarctic islands that are not administered by Australia is as follows:

  • Prince Edward Island supports tens of thousands of Blue Petrels (Williams 1984),
  • Iles Crozet supports tens of thousands of Blue Petrels (Jouventin et al. 1984; Milon 1962),
  • Iles Kerguelen supports between 100 000 and 200 000 pairs of Blue Petrels, concentrated on islands in the Morbihan Gulf (Weimerskirch et al. 1989), and
  • South Georgia Island supports around 70 000 pairs of Blue Petrels (Croxall et al. 1984; Prince & Croxall 1983; Prince & Payne 1979)

Elsewhere in the world, the Blue Petrel also breeds on Diego Ramirez, Chile (2 million birds), Cape Horn, and the Hermite and Wollaston Groups of islands. There are also records from Falkland Island and South Orkney Island which are probably erroneous (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

At Iles Crozet, there is intense predation by skuas on Blue Petrel chicks. Introduced predators have led to the extirpation of the Blue Petrel from several breeding islands throughout the world (del Hoyo et al. 1992). It is subject to intense predation by introduced mammals. Black Rats have exterminated colonies on Ile de la Possession. Blue Petrels on Grande Terre (Iles Kerguelen) and Prince Edward Islands are threatened by feral Cats Felis catus (Marchant & Higgins 1990). House Mice Mus musculus on Marion Island apparently pose no threat to them (N. Klages, as cited in Marchant & Higgins 1990), although they may take eggs or chicks elsewhere (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Australian population of the Blue Petrel occupies a tiny area at a single location and is experiencing a continuing decrease in the number of mature individuals (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The global population of several million birds is not endangered (Hoyo et al. 1992).

The Australian breeding population of the Blue Petrel is between 500 and 600 pairs, which all breed on offshore stacks around Macquarie Island (Brothers 1984).

The Blue Petrel is marine species of the Subantarctic and Antarctic seas. In summer, it occurs mainly over waters of -2 to 2° C in surface temperature, but it also ranges south to the edge of the pack-ice and north to approximately 30° south, or further north over cool currents. It prefers open water. In the Antarctic, it generally avoids the pack-ice, and only occasionally approaches the edge of the ice.

The Blue Petrel breeds on subantarctic islands. Its breeding range extends south of the Antarctic Convergence at South Georgia, where it breeds on coastal lowlands below 500 m above sea level, on offshore rock stacks and islets. At Marion Island, it also breeds on slopes below 500 m above sea level, in herbfield of Cotula plumosa on lower seaward-facing slopes in spray-zone and in Poa cookii tussock grassland higher and on slopes facing away from sea. At Bird Island in the South Georgia group, it breeds in dense tussock grassland on slopes usually of 10 to 40° gradient, where it favours flatter ground than do prions Pachyptila spp. (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

During breeding season and sometimes beyond this, the Blue Petrel roosts in nesting burrows. It presumably roosts at sea at other times (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel nests in rock crevices or burrows in deep, dry soil with low vegetation (e.g. Cotula, Colobanthus, Acaena, Azorella, and Poa) (Marchant & Higgins 1990). At Iles Kerguelen it excavates burrows beneath mounds of Azorella (Oliver 1955). Its burrows extend 15 to 37 cm below the surface, and are about 6 cm in diametre (Murphy 1936), 30 to 100 cm long (200 cm at Iles Kerguelen) and they end in nest chambers that are around 18 cm in diametre. At Marion Island, the species constructs nest-chambers that are 115 mm high and 150 mm wide. Its burrow entrances are larger than those of Salvin's Prions Pachyptila salvini. The Blue Petrel sometimes lines its chambers with fibres, leaves or twigs (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel feeds around the periphery of icebergs. It sometimes gathers at surface swarms of krill. It is generally oceanic. At Iles Kerguelen, it feeds inshore only during rough weather, in the kelp zone (Macrocystis spp.) and in sheltered coastal waters. It may be driven inshore during the non-breeding season by strong onshore winds (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel lays a single egg (Oliver 1955). Its incubation period is 45 to 52 days, and its nestling period is 43 to 60 days. It breeds in dense but discrete colonies. It returns to burrows in late August to September and generally lay eggs in mid to late October, but sometimes as early as September. Chicks fledge and depart between late January and early February (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

All Blue Petrel nests that have been monitored in the vicinity of Macquarie Island have failed because of predation or nest destruction, although there is presumed to be some successful reproduction there because the colony has persisted for several decades (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Breeding success is apparently low on Marion Island (South Africa) (24 to 33%) (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel eats mainly pelagic crustaceans, fish and cephalopods (octopus and squid). It sometimes eat insects, but rarely eats vegetable matter. The relative importance of dietary items varies with locality. The types of crustaceans eaten are mainly euphausiids, but it also eats amphipods, and some decapods and other crustaceans (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The breeding diet consisted of 58% fish, 41% crustaceans and 1% squid by weight during a study at South Georgia Island, and 3% fish, 92% crustaceans, 2% cephalopods, and 3% insects by frequency at Marion Island (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel hunts mainly by surface-seizing and surface-dipping, and it has also been seen surface-diving, contact-dipping, and occasionally pursuit-plunging. It occasionally follows ships and has been recorded with Southern Right Whale Dolphins Lissodelphis peronii (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Hunting by surface-seizing may increase the risk of ingestion of plastic and other anthropogenic material from surface of oceans (Woehler 2002, pers. comm.).

The timing of movements of the Blue Petrel away from breeding grounds is poorly documented, and adults may be largely sedentary. Poulation declines coincide with exceptional cyclonic conditions to the southwest of the Australian continent, which forces birds northwards. The largest population depletion (in 1984) appeared to follow a frontal system (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel departs breeding colonies following fledging between late January and early March. Adults may disperse only to adjacent waters, especially initially. Adults have been recorded at some breeding colonies until June, and at Macquarie Island, adults occasionally return to nesting chambers throughout winter.

Non-breeding Blue Petrels move north from the pack-ice in winter to about 30° south, and up to 20° south off the coast of Peru.

Most records in Australian waters occur between August and October, but the Blue Petrel is present in the Tasman Sea from May onwards (Marchant & Higgins 1990). It has been recorded in southeastern Australian waters between July and January, especially between September and November. These are probably mainly non-breeders, including young of the year (Reid et al. 2002).

The Blue Petrel is present off the coast of South Africa between June and December with a peak in September (Marchant & Higgins 1990). It begins to return to breeding colonies late in August and early September, and probably remains north of the Antarctic Polar front in summer.

On the basis of diet, the Blue Petrel may feed at least 300 km south of Marion Island when breeding. Its maximum estimated foraging range is around 600 to 670 km (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Detectability

The Blue Petrel is conspicuous at sea. It is nocturnally active at colonies, and calls loudly from burrows both during the day and at night (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Cats and black rats are resident on, or occasionally visit, all but one of the breeding stacks (Brothers 1984). On Macquarie Island, rats are most common in the tussock grassland where the Blue Petrel formerly bred (N. Brothers, as cited in Garnett & Crowley 2000). The Blue Petrel is particularly vulnerable to predators because it is present during winter, when many other species of seabirds are absent (Brothers 1984). Extinction of the Blue Petrel from the Macquarie Island mainland was possibly hastened by introduced Wekas Gallirallus australis, as well as cats and black rats Rattus rattus. Chicks are killed by Subantarctic Skuas Catharacta lonnbergi, which also dig up burrows (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

At all breeding sites, skuas eat adult petrels. Giant petrels Macronectes spp kill adult Blue Petrels at sea. Nests of the Blue Petrel are also deserted following trampling of burrows by Imperial Shags Leucocarbo atriceps (Garnett & Crowley 2000). Flooding of burrows and damage caused by exceptionally high waves also cause nest failure (Garnett & Crowley 2000). The effects of local and global climate change on seabirds are little understood, but may be dramatic (van Franeker 2001).

Plastic pellets have been found in the stomachs of Blue Petrels (Marchant & Higgins 1990), and fledglings sometimes fly into lights at night during misty conditions (S. Hunter, as cited in Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Blue Petrel would benefit from feral animal control at breeding colonies (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Action Plan for Australian Birds provides a guide to threat abatement and management strategies for the Blue Petrel (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

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
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Decline in habitat quality Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Rattus rattus (Black Rat, Ship Rat) Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].
Pollution:Garbage and Solid Waste:Ingestion and entanglement with marine debris Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006na) [Internet].

Brothers, N.P. (1984). Breeding, distribution and status of burrow-nesting petrels at Macquarie Island. Australian Wildlife Research. 11:113-131.

Coyle, P. (1993). A Southern Fulmar (Fulmarus glacialoides) and a Blue Petrel (Halobaena caerulea) found dead on Rottnest Island. Western Australian Naturalist. 19:267--268.

Croxall, J.P., P.A. Prince, I. Hunter, S.J. McInnes & P.G. Copestake (1984). The seabirds of the Antarctic Peninsula, Islands of the Scotia Sea, and Antarctic Continent between 80°W and 20°W: their status and conservation. In: Croxall, J.P., P.G.H. Evans & R.W. Schreiber, eds. Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 637--666. ICBP, Cambridge, 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: http://www.environment.gov.au/biodiversity/threatened/publications/seabirds.html.

Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA) (2008a). The South-West Marine Bioregional Plan: Bioregional Profile: A Description of the Ecosystems, Conservation Values and Uses of the South-West Marine Region. [Online]. Canberra: DEWHA. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/resource/south-west-marine-bioregional-plan-bioregional-profile-description-ecosystems-conservation.

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.

Jouventin, P., Stahl, J-C., Weimerskirch, H. and Mougin, J.L. (1984). The seabirds of the French Subantarctic Islands and Adelie Land and their status and conservation. In: ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 609-625.

Magrath, M.J.L., M.A. Weston, P. Olsen & M. Antos (2004). Draft Survey Standards for Birds: Species Accounts. Melbourne, Victoria: Report for the Department of the Environment and Heritage by Birds Australia.

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.

Milon, P. (1962). Aspects de l'Ile de la Posession, 3, oiseaux et mammifères. Terres Australe et Antarctique Francaise. 19-20:30--32.

Murphy, R.C. (1936). Oceanic Birds of South America. American Museum of Natural History, New York.

Oliver, W.R.B. (1955). New Zealand Birds. Wellington, New Zealand: Reed.

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

Prince, P.A. & J.P. Croxall (1983). Birds of South Georgia: new records and re-evaluation of status. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin. 59:15--27.

Prince, P.A. & M.R. Payne (1979). Status of birds on South Georgia. British Antarctic Survey Bulletin. 48:103--18.

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.).

van Franeker, J.A. (2001). Mirrors in Ice: Fulmarine Petrels and Antarctic Ecosystems. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Groningen, Amsterdam.

Weimerskirch, H., R. Zotier & P. Jouventin (1989). The avifauna of the Kerguelen Islands. Emu. 89:15--29.

Williams, A.J. (1984). The status and conservation of the seabirds on some islands in the African Sector of the Southern Ocean. In: Croxall, J.P., P.G.H. Evans & R.W. Schreiber, eds. Status and Conservation of the World's Seabirds. ICBP Technical Publication 2. Page(s) 627--635. ICBP, Cambridge, UK.

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). Halobaena caerulea in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: http://www.environment.gov.au/sprat. Accessed Thu, 21 Aug 2014 05:25:57 +1000.