Justification of Red List Category
This species is classified as Critically Endangered because, given the paucity of recent records, it is estimated that there is only a tiny population which is confined to a very small breeding area. Furthermore, it is assumed to be declining because of predation by cats, rats and potentially by feral pigs, which may therefore threaten its long-term survival.
The remaining population is assumed to be tiny, perhaps fewer than 50 pairs (Shirihai et al. 2009) or even fewer than 50 individuals and mature individuals, based on paucity of recent records (although these include 21 since 1983; Priddel et al. 2008, E. O’Connor in litt. 2012).
The population trend is unknown but it may well be declining owing to effects of rats, cats and feral pigs on Gau Island.
This species was previously known from just one immature specimen collected in 1855 on Gau Island, Fiji. Between 1983 and 2012 however, there were a total of 21 reports of grounded birds on Gau (Priddel et al. 2008, Shirihai et al. 2009, E. O’Connor in litt. 2012). Most records relate to immature birds that have landed on the roofs of houses in Nawaikama, Levukaigua or Nukuloa villages, a number of which have died and four specimens have been obtained from these fatalities (Watling 2000, Priddel et al. 2008, Shirihai et al. 2009). One further confirmed sighting concerns a bird that landed in Levuka village in April 2007 (Priddel et al. 2008). At sea, the only unequivocal sightings of the Fiji Petrel have been off Gau in May and October 2009 (a maximum of three birds together) (Shirihai et al. 2009). It may occur on other islands in the vicinity, e.g. Taveuni (D. Watling verbally 2000). The population size remains unknown but it is speculated that it may be as low as <50 pairs (Shirihai et al. 2009). Potential all-dark Pseudobulweria individuals have been recorded several times in the Bismarck Sea, but it is still unknown whether these individuals are P. macgillivrayi or not (Shirihai 2004, 2008, Bird 2017, Flood et al. 2017).
It is likely to breed in the rugged terrain of interior Gau (where over 70 km² of suitable forest exists up to 715 m) (Watling and Lewanavanua 1985). It is possible that the breeding season is protracted through most of the year with two peaks in activity (April-July and October-January) (Shirihai et al. 2009).
Predation by invasive, non-native species likely pose the greatest threat to this species. A recent survey found Polynesian Rats Rattus exulans in all major habitats on Gau, while House Rats R. rattus has so far only been found in and around villages (O'Conner 2010). Additional rat species, including Brown Rats R. norvegicus, are present on the island with potential to cause decline, though their current range is limited (Priddel 2008). Feral cats Felis catus range over the entire island of Gau and probably has a notable effect on breeding success (Watling and Lewanavanua 1985). The servicing of a telecommunications transmitter on the summit of Gau may facilitate the movement of cats and rats to the breeding area (Watling 2000). Although the Collared Petrel Pterodroma brevipes seems to nest successfully (and its seasonal breeding in the first half of the year may swamp cat predation), it is possible that Fiji Petrel has a more prolonged breeding season later in the year, and it could therefore suffer disproportionately (Watling and Lewanavanua 1985). Previously, only Domestic Pigs Sus domesticus roamed freely around villages and plantations, but recently, Feral Pigs have established in the forests of Gau and may represent a serious additional threat (Priddel and Carlile 2004). The pig population no Gau has increased greatly since the 1980s and pigs are now present to the ridgeline (Shirahai et al. 2009).
The species has been noted to be attracted to fish discards, thus incidental capture in longlines poses a potential threat. Although byactch of Fiji Petrels has not been documented so far, similar species (Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata and Kermadic Petrel Pterodroma neglecta) were found on recent trips off Gau, with obvious damage resulting form line-lining, suggesting that Fiji Petrels are also likely to be at risk (Shirihai et al. 2009). Having a distribution on relatively low-lying islands, the species is potentially susceptible to climate change through sea-level rise and shifts in suitable climatic conditions (BirdLife International unpublished data).
Conservation Actions Underway
The rarity and significance of this species has been promoted to local residents and it is featured on a Fijian bank note. It is protected under Fijian law. Repeated surveys in the 1980s attempting to find evidence of breeding failed and no further work was undertaken for 10 years. In 2003, a Recovery Plan for the Fiji Petrel was drawn up with the assistance of the Department of Environment and Conservation of New South Wales. In 2004, the National Trust of Fiji initiated a year-long community awareness programme on the island in association with RARE and, together with the Department of Environment and Conservation of New South Wales, it initiated a community-based awareness project to procure more information from grounded birds, together with an initiative to protect the Gau highlands where the petrel is believed to nest. Data from landed petrels have been collected in 2005, 2007 and 2009 (D. Watling in litt. 2005, Priddel et al. 2008, Shirihai et al. 2009). The most urgent priority remains locating the breeding grounds. A comprehensive scientific review of the Fiji Petrel and its conservation has been undertaken and recently published (BirdLife International 2008).
As part of BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions programme, NatureFiji-MareqetiViti have taken on the role of Species Guardian and are implementing the following actions: three full time staff, including a Project Officer, as well as many part time field assistants, are based on the island charged with implementing activities identified in the Fiji Petrel Recovery Plan; welfare and release procedures for grounded birds and the development of local expertise in the collection of scientific data following such incidents; initiation of feral pig control; nocturnal listening for Fiji Petrels over the new moon periods with playback of Tahiti and Mascarene Petrel calls; spotlighting and cold searches for nesting burrows; radio-telemetry to follow birds to burrows; and burrow examination using a burrow-scope. NFMV has just conducted the first systematic survey of rats in three different habitats on Gau Island and will be undertaking further surveys to confirm and extend the current investigation to gauge the potential threats of invasive rats to the Fiji Petrel. Data was also collected on the extent of feral pigs on Gau (E. O'Connor in litt. 2012). Two petrel burrow detector dogs have been trained in New Zealand and have been working full time on Gau since July 2011. To date, they have located 43 active Collared Petrel nests (O’Brien et al. 2016). The burrow detector dogs have been aided in their searches for nesting Fiji Petrels by using scent from the feathers of a dead specimen. NatureFiji-MareqetiViti have received a significant grant from the Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund to enable this work to be undertaken (D. Watling in litt. 2009), along with grants from the Mohamed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the BirdLife International Community Conservation Fund. In 2012 a young Fiji Petrel was found in Nukuloa, a recording was made of its call (Carlile et al. in prep) and this is now broadcast at a predator-free site to attract other Fiji Petrels (Fiji Petrel Campaign Team 2014). Burrow nest boxes (Priddel and Carlile 1995) have also been installed at the site.
Conservation Actions Proposed
On Gau, continue to conduct surveys employing petrel specialists and using spotlighting, radio-tracking (of birds caught locally at-sea) and trained wildlife searching sniffer dogs (SPREP 2000, Priddel et al. 2008). Develop and support local expertise to assist with, or carry out, surveys (SPREP 2000). Continue to raise awareness on Gau, and put in place a process for rapid alert to and acquisition of any grounded birds (Priddel et al. 2008). Assess the breeding success and threats to P. brevipes. Survey seas off other suitable islands. Nature Fiji-Mareqeti Viti plans to protect Fiji Petrel breeding sites from rats, cats and mongooses (Susu 2015).
30 cm. Small, dark gadfly petrel. Dark chocolate-brown all over, perhaps darker around face. Black bill, dark eye. Pale washed-out blue tarsi. Mostly black feet with pale blue patch on centre of inner web. Similar spp. Size and colour may cause confusion with Black Noddy Anous minutus and Brown Noddy A. stolidus, but it lacks white cap and has characteristic petrel flight. Difficult to distinguish from Kiritimati (Christmas) Shearwater Puffinus nativitatis, Mascarene Petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima, Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii and Jouanin's Petrel B. fallax (BirdLife International 2008). Hints May be seen in waters around Gau Island but believed to disperse to pelagic waters far from the island.
Text account compilers
Moreno, R., O'Brien, A., Shutes, S., Stattersfield, A., Symes, A., Temple, H., Westrip, J., Ashpole, J, Bird, J., Calvert, R., Derhé, M., Fjagesund, T., Bennett, S., Lascelles, B., Martin, R.
Watling, D., Millett, J., Carlile, N., Dutson, G.
BirdLife International (2023) Species factsheet: Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2023. Recommended citation for factsheets for more than one species: BirdLife International (2023) IUCN Red List for birds. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 28/03/2023.