Phoenix Petrel
Pterodroma alba

Procellariiformes Order - Procellariidae Family

The Phoenix Petrel is found in the central Pacific Ocean where it occurs on coasts and breeds on several islands and atolls. It is marine and pelagic, and comes ashore only to breed.
Like most other tropical petrel species, it nests on the ground rather than in a burrow, due to the absence of avian predators. Both adults share the nesting duties.
This species feeds mainly on squid, but it also takes fish and small arthropods, typically caught near the sea surface.

The Phoenix Petrel is affected by invasive species including cats, rats, dogs and rabbits, but most of them have been eradicated from some islands. In addition, it is a restricted range species, and climate change may be also a threat in the future. The species is currently listed as Vulnerable.   

Length: 35 cm
Wingspan: 83 cm
Weight: 270 gr (220-340 gr)

The Phoenix Petrel is a medium-large gadfly-petrel.
The upperparts are uniformly dark brown, whereas the underparts are white on breast, belly and vent.
The underwing is two-toned. It is dusky grey on the flight-feathers and greater coverts. The rest of the underwing is blackish, except for partially white marginal coverts involving a white line on the inner part of the leading edge.
Upper flanks and thighs are dark brown and the white lateral undertail coverts may show some dark specking.

On the head, a dark brown hood extends to chin and upper breast, and contrasts strongly with the white underparts.
The hood is usually all-dark, although numerous individuals have a whitish patch of variable extent on the throat.
The bill is black. The eyes are dark brown, surrounded by narrow, bare, pale blue-grey eyering. Legs and base of the feet are pale pink, but the other part of the webbed feet is black.  

Male and female are similar.  
The juvenile resembles adults.
The chick has grey down overall and black bill.    

The Phoenix Petrel is found in the Central Pacific Ocean. It breeds colonially on several islands including Phoenix Islands, Line Islands, Marquesas, Pitcairn Islands and off Easter Island. Records from Tuamotu and Tonga have not been recently confirmed.
At sea, it ranges N to Hawaiian Islands, E to Galapagos Islands, W to Fiji, and probably SW to Kermadec waters.    

The Phoenix Petrel is a pelagic seabird that comes ashore only to breed.
Some breeding sites are on low coral atolls (Oeno Island, Pitcairn group), raised coral atolls (Kanton Island, Phoenix Islands and Kiritimati, Line Islands), or high volcanic islands (Marquesas). The birds often nests under trees or bushes.

The Phoenix Petrel is vocal at the breeding colonies where it produces excited “whoops” and “yips”. Other calls are described as a shrill warble ending in gurgling sound.

The Phoenix Petrel feeds primarily on squid (78%), but its diet also includes fish (14%) and small crustaceans and invertebrates (8%).
The prey are caught from or near the sea surface by dipping, and also surface-seizing and pattering.

During the breeding season, the Phoenix Petrel visits the nesting islands by day. This species nests mainly on the ground in a scrape, rather than in a burrow. This behaviour is probably due to the absence of avian predators on most small tropical islands such as skuas (Stercorariidae), hawks (Accipitridae), falcons (Falconidae) and owls (Strigidae). Both adults share the nesting duties.

Outside of breeding season, the Phoenix Petrel disperses over a wide area in tropical Pacific Ocean.

The flight is graceful, alternating with long periods of arched-shaped gliding flight. The bird flies in high-banked arch and glides with the wings angled forwards and swept back at the carpal joint.

The Phoenix Petrel probably breeds almost all year round. On Kiritimati (Christmas Island), it breeds in April/June and November/January. A nest with eggs was found in March in Marquesas, whereas on Easter Island, two nests with eggs were found in December and a well-grown young in August.
The species nests in the open on remote atolls and islets. It breeds colonially, often with other seabirds.
The nest is on the ground. It is only a scrape, often placed under tree or bush.  
Those nesting in temperate latitudes including New Zealand, nest usually in burrows.  

The female lays a single white egg, and both adults share the incubation during about 53 days. The downy grey chick is fed by both parents.

The Phoenix Petrel is threatened by invasive species, especially feral cats, but also rats (Polynesian Rat and House Rat). Feral dogs and rabbits have been eradicated from several islands.
Another threat is caused by the Yellow Crazy Ants, involving nest abandonment in some burrowing species.
Climate change may also have a negative impact in the future.   

The size of the population is roughly placed in the band 20,000/30,000 mature individuals. It is suspected to decline slowly, but it could be stable in the future, due to eradication of invasive species.
The Phoenix Petrel is currently listed as Vulnerable.

Fr: Pétrel à poitrine blanche
Ang: Phoenix Petrel
All: Phönixsturmvogel
Esp: Petrel de Las Fénix
Ita: Petrello delle Phoenix
Nd: Phoenixstormvogel
Sd: phoenixpetrell

Text by Nicole Bouglouan


HANDBOOK OF THE BIRDS OF THE WORLD vol 1 by Josep del Hoyo-Andrew Elliot-Jordi Sargatal - Lynx Edicions - ISBN: 8487334105

Petrels, Albatrosses, and Storm-Petrels of North America: A Photographic Guide De Steve N. G. Howell – Editor: Princeton University Press, 2012 – ISBN: 0691142114, 9780691142111 – 482pages

OISEAUX DE MER – Guide d’identification de Peter Harrison – Editions Broquet (Canada) – ISBN-10 : 2890004090 – ISBN-13 : 978-2890004092

Avibase (Denis Lepage)

Birdlife International

Birds of the World

New Zealand Birds Online

Notes on the Phoenix Petrel (Pterodroma alba) from Hatuta'a Island, Marquesas

SORA - Factors affecting egg mass loss in the Phoenix Petrel on Christmas Island

Aves de Chile


Animal Pictures Archive

Manu SOP

Pitcairn Islands Philatelic Bureau

Wikipedia, the free encyclopaedia


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