Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Bermuda Petrel Reclaims Historic Breeding Grounds

Three Bermuda Petrels (Pterodroma cahow) have returned to Nonsuch Island. The species was last recorded breeding there 400 years ago. Most recently birds of this species were breeding on small islets in Castle Harbor, Bermuda. The new pairs were translocated to Nonsuch Island as chicks to prevent the breeding population from being wiped out by a hurricane. While nesting has not yet been recorded, the petrels have engaged in courtship and nest-preparation behaviors.

Under the direction of Dr. David Wingate, Bermuda’s former Conservation Officer, Nonsuch Island has undergone ecological restoration over the last 45 years, with the replanting of native and endemic trees and plants. “This has now formed a young closed-canopy forest, similar to what the first settlers on the island in the early 1600s described the bird as nesting under”, said Jeremy Madeiros of Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services, who has managed the Cahow Recovery Programme since David Wingate’s retirement.

During February this year, Jeremy Madeiros and Andrew Dobson, President of the Society for the Conservation and Study of Caribbean Birds, visited Nonsuch Island at night to check for evidence of Bermuda Petrel breeding activity.

“One bird landed next to us so we could check its band [ring], weigh and measure it,” said Andrew Dobson. “It then spent at least two hours in the burrow.”

Jeremy Madeiros says the recapture of translocated birds back on Nonsuch and the courtship and nest prospecting activity are important milestones. But the project will not be considered a success until nesting occurs. “If this activity follows the pattern already observed at the original breeding islets, this could happen as early as 2009–2010.”
The following video shows footage of a Bermuda Petrel (a.k.a. "Chahow" nest site).