Bird of the Week: Pink-footed Shearwater

 

The Pink-footed Shearwater is part of an order of seabirds, Procellariiformes, nicknamed “tubenoses” for the pair of nasal tubes on their upper bills. These specialized tubes filter and excrete salt, enabling the birds to drink seawater. They also have a keen sense of smell used to find food and identify nesting burrows.

 

These birds face threats both on land and at sea: Non-native predators and land degradation are the biggest threats at breeding colonies, and accidental bycatch in fisheries is potentially a major threat while the birds are foraging.

 

 

The largest colony of Pink-footed Shearwaters breeds on Isla Mocha, Chile, with smaller colonies on the islands of Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara in the Juan Fernández Archipelago. Like other shearwaters such as the Newell’s, “pink-foots” nest in burrows up to ten feet deep that are dug with their beaks and feet.

 

This ground-nesting habit makes eggs, chicks, and adults vulnerable to introduced predators such as rats, coatimundi, and especially feral cats. The breeding islands quickly become degraded and eroded by introduced cattle and goats. In addition, some human inhabitants of Isla Mocha still illegally harvest the chicks for food, the level of which is currently unknown.

 

At sea, Pink-footed Shearwaters face competition with fisheries for their favored prey, mostly fish and squid. Since these birds feed by shallow dives or by grabbing food from the water’s surface, they risk being hooked or tangled in lines as they follow fishing boats. Oil spills, marine plastic pollution, and climate change are also threats.

 

ABC and partners, including Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge, are working with local communities to reduce chick harvesting on Isla Mocha and to restore critical breeding habitat in the Juan Fernández Islands.

 

ABC is also collaborating on a satellite tracking project that follows tagged Pink-footed Shearwaters on their epic flights, which is helping to pinpoint foraging areas and migration routes, as well as the impact of the birds’ interactions with fisheries.