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
This taxon may be listed under the EPBC Act at the species level, see Pachyptila turtur [1066].
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 competition and land degradation by rabbits (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008adh) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Threat Abatement Plan for predation by feral cats (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2008zzp) [Threat Abatement Plan].
Threat abatement plan to reduce the impacts of exotic rodents on biodiversity on Australian offshore islands of less than 100 000 hectares 2009 (Department of the Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (DEWHA), 2009u) [Threat Abatement 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].
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].
State Government
    Documents and Websites
TAS:Pachyptila turtur subantarctica (Fairy Prion (southern)): Species Management Profile for Tasmania's Threatened Species Link (Threatened Species Section (TSS), 2014ta) [State Action Plan].
State Listing Status
TAS: Listed as Endangered (Threatened Species Protection Act 1995 (Tasmania): September 2012 list)
Scientific name Pachyptila turtur subantarctica [64445]
Family Procellariidae:Procellariiformes:Aves:Chordata:Animalia
Species author  
Infraspecies author Oliver, 1955
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

National: Listed as Marine under the name Pachyptila turtur under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Protection Act 1999.

Scientific name: Pachyptila turtur subantarctica

Common name: Fairy Prion (southern)

Other names: Blue Prion, Dove Prion, Fairy Dove Prion, Gould Petrel, Short-billed Prion, Whalebird, Narrow-billed Prion, Titi wainui

The Fairy Prion is polytypic.The subspecies subantarctica breeds on Antipodes Island, Big South Cape, Snares Island and Macquarie Island. The nominate subspecies (turtur) breeds on New Zealand offshore islands, from the Poor Knight Islands to Foveaux Strait, Chatham Island, islands in Bass Strait and the Falkland Islands. The species probably forms a superspecies with the Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris (del Hoyo et al. 1992)

The Fairy Prion is the smallest of the Australian Prions, with a wingspan of about 56 cm. They have a short narrow bill with a strong hook narrowly separated from the nasal tubes. The Fairy Prion is grey-blue above, with a darker grey crown, and grey eye stripe. The eyes are dark and highlighted above and below the grey eye stripe by white plumage. The tail is triangular and has a thick dark bank at the tip (Pizzey & Knight 1999).

Fairy Prions regularly feed in large flocks, sometimes with other seabirds (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The southern subspecies (subantarctica) of the Fairy Prion was first recorded on Macquarie Island in 1956 (Keith & Hines 1958), with breeding confirmed in 1978. Breeding has also been recorded on two offshore rock stacks at Macquarie Island, one near Langdon Point, the other near Davis Point (Brothers 1984). A second sub-population was found on Bishop and Clerk Islands in 1993 (N. Brothers, as cited in Garnett & Crowley 2000). The species as a whole has been recorded breeding on subantarctic and cool temperate islands (Bass Strait islands, Tasmania, Macquarie Island) (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Fairy Prions (including other subspecies) are often beachcast on the south-eastern coast of Australia, and are commonly seen offshore over the continental shelf and over pelagic waters. Observations are less common off Western Australia and Queensland than in south-eastern Australia. Beachcast birds are found along the whole coast of NSW, and the species is common offshore along the entire Victorian coast, where thousands are sometimes seen. In Tasmania, the Fairy Prion is an abundant visitor to all offshore waters. In South Australia, this species is regularly seen and often beachcast (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The species as a whole has a circumpolar distribution, and probably frequents subtropical waters during the non-breeding period. It has been recorded breeding on subantarctic and cool temperate islands in the Southern Hemisphere (New Zealand offshore islands, Iles Crozet, Bird Island, South Georgia, the Falkland Islands and Ile St Paul) (Marchant & Higgins 1990). It is the most abundant prion in New Zealand. It has been recorded once from New Guinea, and at least five times from South Africa and Namibia. There are also a few records from South American waters (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The world population of the southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion is around 80 000 pairs (Blaber et al. 1996), and for the species as a whole is probably several million pairs (del Hoyo et al. 1992). There are around 1.06 to 1.68 million breeding pairs in Australian waters (Victoria, Bass Strait and southern Tasmania) (Ross et al. 1996a), over a million birds in New Zealand, and tens of thousands at Iles Crozet (del Hoyo et al. 1992). A recent population estimate for Tasmania and Bass Strait Islands puts the population in that region alone at 1.1 million (Brothers et al. 2001).
Outside Australian territory, breeding has been recorded on Antipodes Island, Big South Cape and Snares Island, with some individuals migrating north towards New Zealand and southern Australia in winter (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The population size of the southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion (subantarctica) is possibly stable. There are 50 to 250 mature individuals in Australia. The population breeding at Macquarie Island comprises up to 40 pairs (Brothers 1984).

The southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion is a marine bird, found mostly in temperate and subantarctic seas. The species' oceanic distribution is poorly known. The Fairy Prion sometimes forages over continental shelves and the continental slope, but it can come close inshore in rough weather. It may also feed in deep coastal waters (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Off Wollongong, NSW, 79% of Fairy Prions were seen in waters over the continental slope while 21% were counted over neritic water (water more than 200 m deep) (Wood 1996). Data from the south-eastern Australian Seabird Atlas confirm this pattern, with 83% (of 24 505 individuals) seen over the continental slope, 9% over continental shelf and only 8% over open ocean. The southern Fairy Prion is found flying over the ocean where sea surface temperatures are 8.6° to 20.2° C (Reid et al. 2002).

The southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion breeds on islands and rock stacks. It burrows in soil, or uses crevices and caves in cliffs or rock falls. The subspecies can also nest in scrub, herbland, tussock or pasture (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

On Macquarie Island and adjacent islets, the burrows of Fairy Prions are usually in crevices, in hollows beneath cushions of Colobanthus muscoides or in burrows in peaty soil held together by a thick cover of Cotula plumosa (Brothers 1984). Fairy Prions build their nests in a dry nest-chamber (about 30 cm across) at the end of a burrow, or, if there is no suitable chamber at the end, about three-quarters of the way along a rock crevice. Crevices are usually large enough for only one adult, but some larger nest chambers support a number of pairs. The nest is usually lined with fallen leaves and sometimes twigs.

Details of the reproduction of Fairy Prions at Macquarie Island are not published, but Fairy Prions elsewhere lay a single egg and are single brooded. Replacement laying has not been recorded (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The incubation period of Fairy Prions at Mangere Island, New Zealand is around 47 days (range 44 to 54, sample size 18). Nestling periods in New Zealand include: at Whero Island, 50 days (range 43 to 56, sample size 66), at Aorangi, average 45 days (sample size 72), at Mangere Island, 48 days (45 to 51, sample size 17) (A.J.D. Tennyson, as cited in Marchant & Higgins 1990). In New Zealand, 74 to 79% of chicks survive (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Fairy Prion breeds colonially, in pairs. They typically breed between September and early March (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Fairy Prions usually eat mostly euphausiids and other small crustaceans, but also eat small quantities (c. 4%) of fish and pteropods (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

The Fairy Prion flies just above the surface of the ocean. It hunts by surface-seizing, dipping, pattering or surface-plunging. The subspecies rarely follow boats, although it has been known to gather around fishing boats to take discarded fish oil/waste from the water. When feeding on discarded oil/waste, the southern Fairy Prion sometimes associates with other Prions and Storm-petrels (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Little information on migratory movements is available for the southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion (subantarctica). Some individuals may migrate north towards New Zealand and southern Australia in winter (Garnett & Crowley 2000; Marchant & Higgins 1990). However, Fairy Prions in the Tasmanian region are apparently sedentary, and can be found occupying burrows and courting at any time of year (Brothers et al. 2001).

The species as a whole is migratory or dispersive, but the movements are poorly known. Young fledge and adults depart Whero Island, New Zealand, in mid-February to early March. Most young leave Poor Knights Island, New Zealand, in early to mid January, and the mean departure date from South Georgia Island is the 15th of February. Young fledge at Iles Crozet from early Marrch. Failed or non-breeders depart Poor Knights Island around the 8th of December.

Birds of nominate subspecies (turtur) probably travel north to subtropical waters during winter. Some birds banded in Cook Strait (New Zealand) have been recovered in coastal NSW. Birds have been recorded June to September off south eastern Queensland, with peak numbers beachcast in north-eastern NSW between June and July (Marchant & Higgins 1990). Specimens of subspecies antarctica recovered from New Zealand suggest a similar pattern. It is most abundant in Tasmanian waters between May and September (D.W. Eades, as cited in Marchant & Higgins 1990), which suggests an influx of birds then (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The species is a winter visitor to South African waters, even though birds have been seen at the closest breeding colonies (Iles Crozet) throughout winter. Of 1650 birds beachcast in New Zealand, 60.6% were male. Birds return to Whero Island, New Zealand from late August, and from Iles Crozet from late September (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Beachcast birds are particularly common on New Zealand beaches from late January to mid February after young fledge, and during inclement weather from July to November. Fairy prions are often wrecked on Australian and New Zealand coasts, for example in the Geelong region (Victoria) (in August 1959, July 1961, July 1970, August 1978, January 1981, August 1985), in NSW (June, July 1975), and large wrecks in New Zealand (1975 to 1976, 1984 to 1986) (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Of 599 Fairy Prions observed on 23 cruises off Wollongong, NSW, 96% were present in winter, and this appears to be a regular seasonal pattern, although the numbers present each year vary (Wood 1996). In south-eastern Australia, Fairy Prions were seen throughout the year, but mostly between March and May and between September and October. One flock of 10 000 was recorded off Portland, Victoria in September (Reid et al. 2002).

The southern Fairy Prion is generally indistinguishable at sea from the Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris (Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Recommended Methods
The southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion can be surveyed at sea, using shipboard surveys. On land, it can be surveyed using area searches or transect surveys, and using observation from onshore vantage points using telescopes. These methods detect flying birds and burrows, and should be followed up with spotlighting at night, when birds are active at the colony. Video camera counts have been used for burrow-dwelling species such as the Fairy Prion on Takapourewa (Stephens Island), New Zealand (Markwell 1997). Direct observation of birds attending burrows and availability of suitable burrows has been used to estimate numbers on Macquarie Island (Brothers 1984).

At Macquarie Island, the southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion is restricted to edges of suitable habitat in some areas by competition with Blue Petrels Halobaena caerulea. Rats Rattus spp may interfere with breeding, and flooding probably affects breeding success (Brothers 1984).

The subspecies probably has a small population and breeds only on offshore stacks because Wekas Gallirallus australis and feral cats Felis catus are major predators, especially in winter when the food supply for these predators is scarce (Brothers 1984). Feral cats are believed to prey on birds as they arrive at the colony, although they are probably too large to enter the nesting burrows (Baker et al. 2002; Marchant & Higgins 1990).

Soil erosion could potentially cause the deterioration of formerly suitable nesting areas. During the breeding season, it is possible that fires could seriously affect nesting colonies. Breeding success can vary greatly according to the level of predation and availability of food (Marchant & Higgins 1990). The effects of local and global climate change on seabirds are little understood, but could be severe (van Franeker 2001).

Sustained feral animal control on Macquarie Island has eliminated Wekas and feral cats, has reduced rabbits Oryctolagus cuniculus numbers, and is continuing (Garnett & Crowley 2000; I. Skira, 2002, pers. comm.). It is important to continue feral animal control in current breeding areas, and potential breeding areas, as required (Garnett & Crowley 2000).

The Action Plan for Australian Birds provides a guide to threat abatement and management strategies for the southern subspecies of the Fairy Prion (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
Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate Change and Severe Weather:Climate change altering atmosphere/hydrosphere temperatures, rainfall patterns and/or frequency of severe weather events Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Decline in habitat quality Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Ecosystem/Community Stresses:Ecosystem Degradation:Habitat deterioration due to soil degradation and erosion Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation Felis catus (Cat, House Cat, Domestic Cat) Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Invasive Non-Native/Alien Species:Competition and/or predation by rats Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].
Invasive and Other Problematic Species and Genes:Problematic Native Species:Competition and/or predation by birds Pachyptila turtur subantarcticain Species Profile and Threats (SPRAT) database (Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2006sc) [Internet].

Baker, G.B., R. Gales, S. Hamilton & V. Wilkinson (2002). Albatrosses and petrels in Australia: a review of their conservation and management. Emu. 102:71-97.

Blaber, S., H. Battam, N. Brothers & S. Garnett (1996). Threatened and migratory seabird species in Australia: an overview of status, conservation and management. In: Ross, G.J.B., K. Weaver & J.C. Greig, eds. The Status of Australia's Seabirds: Proceedings of the National Seabird Workshop, Canberra, 1-2 November 1993. Page(s) 13-27. Biodiversity Group, Env. Aust., Canberra.

Brothers, N., D. Pemberton, H. Pryor & V. Halley (2001). Tasmania's Offshore Islands: Seabirds and Other Natural Features. Tasmanian Museum and Art Gallery, Hobart.

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

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:

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

Keith, K. & M.P. Hines (1958). New and rare species of birds at Macquarie Island during 1956 and 1957. CSIRO Wildlife Research. 5:50--53.

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.

Markwell, T.J. (1997). Video camera count of burrow-dwelling Fairy Prions, Sooty Shearwaters, and tuatara on Takapourewa (Stephens Island), New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Zoology. 24:231--237.

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.).

Ross, G.J.B., A.A. Burbidge, N. Brothers, P. Canty, P. Dann, P.J. Fuller, K.R. Kerry, F.I. Norman, P.W. Menkhorst, D. Pemberton, G. Shaughnessy, P.D. Shaughnessy, G.C. Smith, T. Stokes & J. Tranter (1996a). The status of Australia's seabirds. In: Zann, L., ed. The State of the Marine Environment Report for Australia, Technical Summary. Dept of the Environment, Sport & Territories, Canb.

Skira, I. (2002). Personal communication.

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

Wood, K.A. (1996). Seasonal abundance and offshore zonation of Prions Pachyptila spp. off Wollongong, New South Wales. Australian Bird Watcher. 16:211--216.

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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). Pachyptila turtur subantarctica in Species Profile and Threats Database, Department of the Environment, Canberra. Available from: Accessed Sat, 20 Sep 2014 05:10:29 +1000.