DEDICATION: To increasing awareness and understanding of a remarkable seabird whose travels span the Americas, from the oceanic waters of Chile to those of Canada.
In this site, you will learn about the biology of Pink-footed Shearwaters, their conservation status, and conservation-based research and community education programs. Please join us in exploring their incredible lives and the efforts being made to conserve them.
During the last week of April, Valentina Colodro, together with the Isla Mocha park rangers attached small, solar-powered satellite transmitters to breeding adults on Isla Mocha, Chile. Chicks will soon fledge (early May) and the adults have initiated their post-breeding northern migration along the entire coast of the Americas. View Live Maps courtesy of Seaturtle.org.
Previous tracking maps
- Facebook page Fardela Blanca for field and community updates
- Report (Mangel et al. 2013) assessing PFSH interactions with fisheries in Chile, Peru and Ecuador and highlights the potential for bycatch in multiple fisheries.
- Species review for nomination to ACAP
Partners and Funders
- Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF)
- Josh Adams, USGS
- American Bird Conservancy
- Canadian Wildlife Service
- David Hyrenbach, Hawai’i Pacific University
- Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)
- National Fish and Wildlife Foundation
- NOAA Office of International Affairs
- Adams J., J. C. Mangel, J. Alfaro-Shigueto, P. Hodum, K. D. Hyrenbach, V. Colodro, P. Palavecino, M. Donoso, and J. H. Norris. Conservation implications of Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) movements and fishery interactions off South America assessed using multiple methods. 40th Annual Pacific Seabird Conference, Portland, OR 20-24 February 2013. [Spoken Presentation]
- Phillips, E., J. Zamon, J. Adams, K. D. Hyrenbach, P. Hodum, and L. Reinalda. 2010. Anomalous Pink-footed Shearwater abundances in Oregon and Washington coastal waters: an ecosystem indicator in the northern California Current. First World Seabird Conference. Victoria, B.C., Canada Sept. 7–11 2010. [Spoken Presentation]
- Hodum, P. J., K. D. Hyrenbach, and J. Adams. Wintering habitat use patterns by threatened Pink-footed Shearwaters. Annual Pacific Seabird Conference 2010. [Spoken Presentation]
The Pink-footed Shearwater (Puffinus creatopus) is a species of seabird in the order Procellariiformes, a group of birds that includes albatrosses, petrels, shearwaters, diving petrels and storm petrels. Birds in this order are also called “tubenoses” because all but the diving petrels possess a pair of nasal tubes atop their bill. Tubenoses typically breed in colonies, usually on the same island on which they were raised. This group of seabirds is characterized by high adult survival, late age at first breeding, and low reproductive rates. They lay, at most, one egg per year and growth rates of chicks are amongst the lowest of any group of birds. Because of these characteristics, species in this order are extremely vulnerable to impacts that decrease adult survival. And because of their deferred age of first breeding and low reproductive rates, populations are incapable of recovering quickly, even under favorable conditions.
Pink-footed Shearwaters are colonial breeders, nesting in underground burrows that they excavate using their bill and feet. Burrows typically exceed 1m in length and sometimes extend for more than 3m. A burrow may be used for many decades, with each pair modifying the burrow to their liking. Like most tubenoses, Pink-footed Shearwaters maintain long-term breeding pairs. Established pairs return in late October-early November to the same burrow used in past breeding seasons. A single egg is laid in late November-early December, with both sexes sharing incubation duties. The chick hatches in late January-early February. After brooding the chick for its first few days, parents leave it unattended in the burrow to allow both birds to head to sea in search of food. Both parents feed the chick irregularly, with foraging trips lasting from 2-12 days. Chicks grow slowly, remaining in the burrow until they fledge in late April-early May. Once leaving the burrow, fledglings head directly to sea and are completely independent.
The Pink-footed Shearwater is endemic to Chile, breeding on only three known islands. The largest known breeding population is found on Isla Mocha, a continental island, with smaller breeding colonies found on the oceanic islands of Robinson Crusoe and Santa Clara in the Juan Fernández Archipelago. During the nesting season, breeding birds remain in Chilean waters. After chicks fledge, shearwaters undertake an impressive migration northward to spend the non-breeding season in waters off the coasts of Peru and North America. In North America, they range along the Pacific Coast from Baja California, Mexico to British Columbia, Canada. Pink-footed Shearwaters appear to prefer the shallower, colder and typically more productive oceanic waters that occur over the continental shelf and shelf-break.
Due to limited information available about the size of breeding populations, the present global estimate of approximately 20,000 breeding pairs is tentative.
Diet and foraging
The diet of Pink-footed Shearwaters has not been well documented. Existing data indicate that they feed primarily in productive offshore waters over the continental shelf but also in pelagic waters, primarily on fish (sardines and anchovies), squid and small amounts of crustaceans. They capture prey by using shallow dives, up to 25m in depth but more commonly less than 3m, and by seizing items from the ocean surface.
Conservation and Solutions
Pink-footed Shearwaters are listed as Vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Threatened by Canada and Vulnerable by Chile. The species is also listed as a Species of Common Conservation Concern by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC). In 2007, Canada and Chile created national conservation plans for the species. The international Convention on Migratory Species lists the Pink-footed Shearwater in Appendix I.
Pink-footed Shearwaters are confronted by threats both on the breeding colonies and at sea. These factors have a cumulative effect on the population, although their impacts have not been well determined.
Principle Colony Based Threats
Predation by non-native mammals (feral cats, coatimundis, rats) in the breeding colonies
- Competition with non-native European rabbits for breeding burrows
- Habitat destruction and alteration in the breeding colonies
- Increased soil erosion through herbivory by non-native mammals (cattle, goats)
- Chick harvest on Isla Mocha
Principal at-sea threats
- Potential bycatch in fisheries
- Potential competition with fisheries for prey resources
- Plastic debris and contaminants in ocean waters
Since 2002, the Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy (JFIC) has been working closely with the island community and the Corporación Nacional Forestal, the Chilean agency charged with administering national parks and reserves. JFIC has developed educational resources for the local school, helped develop and support an environmental education program for island children, and given community talks about research and conservation.
International Challenges & opportunities
Because of its highly migratory life cycle, efforts to conserve Pink-footed Shearwaters must transcend national boundaries. Not only do shearwaters need to have intact and safe habitat in which to breed, but they also require safe areas at sea in which to forage during the breeding season and to migrate and spend the winter during the non-breeding season. Thus, effectively conserving the species will require complementary efforts by multiple countries in both North and South America. Although daunting, such large-scale conservation challenges also present opportunities to develop closer international cooperation and awareness of how countries are truly connected by the species which move freely amongst them. The Pink-footed Shearwater’s travels span the Americas and, thus, can serve as a cultural and conservation link between countries and hemispheres.
After four years of control efforts, the Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF) successfully eradicated non-native European rabbits on Isla Santa Clara in October 2003. Breeding activity by shearwaters has increased significantly since the eradication, with the percentage of active burrows increasing from an average of 43% to approximately 60%.
In 2003, the Juan Fernández Islands Conservancy (JFIC), in collaboration with the Municipality of Juan Fernández, submitted a successful proposal to have a remnant shearwater colony on the edge of the archipelago’s only town designated as a federal reserve. This small colony was historically considerably larger but declined significantly, presumably due to increased disturbance as the town grew and developed. However, a small number of active burrows remain, with chicks successfully fledging each year. The goal for the reserve is that it will serve as an effective education and conservation resource, allowing a large number of people to actively learn about local biology and conservation as well as participate in nest monitoring and vegetation restoration projects within the reserve.
Until the late 1990s, cattle were largely unrestricted in their movements on Robinson Crusoe despite the island’s designation as national park. However, CONAF has since built a series of fences that restrict cattle to a few sectors of the island, thereby eliminating the impacts of cattle on all but one shearwater colony. The long-term goal is to exclude cattle from this last colony.
As on many islands throughout the globe, feral cats have had a significant impact on native wildlife on the Juan Fernández Islands. Research on Robinson Crusoe has demonstrated predation by feral cats on Pink-footed Shearwaters in their breeding colonies. Recognizing the impacts of cats not only on shearwaters but also on other native birds, including the critically endangered Juan Fernández firecrown, the island community is now working cooperatively with CONAF and JFIC to implement cat control and sterilization programs. It is hoped that this program will decrease the cat population overall and result in fewer feral cats on the island.
Basic scientific research at the population, species and ecosystem level is critical to conservation of the species. Current research on Pink-footed Shearwaters focuses on basic ecology and assessments of factors potentially affecting populations. Oikonos and partners have been conducting conservation-based research on the species since 2002, with the following research objectives on Isla Mocha and the Juan Fernandez Islands:
- monitoring of population sizes and distribution at the breeding colonies
- at-sea surveys to determine population abundance and distribution
Breeding biology and behavior
- timing of breeding
- burrow occupancy
- reproductive success (hatching and fledging success)
- foraging habitat characteristics and locations (using satellite transmitters)
Migratory behavior – satellite tracking
- migration from Chile breeding colonies
- wintering hotspots off North America
Impacts of non-native mammals
- predation by feral cats, coatimundis and rats
- competition with European rabbits for burrows
- breeding habitat alteration by grazing mammals (rabbits, cattle, goats)
Since 2006, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) has played an important role in supporting conservation research on the species. Based on priorities identified in the CEC North American Conservation Action Plan (NACAP), the following three objectives have been addressed:
- Study of the migration from breeding colonies in the Juan Fernández Islands (Chile) to CEC waters in North America
- Mapping of the distribution and abundance during the post-breeding dispersal in CEC waters
- Capacity building to train local researchers in Mexico and South America to develop a comprehensive picture of the species’ at-sea distribution and trends in abundance.
As part of the CEC NACAP, efforts are underway to assemble a working group of experts in the ecology and the conservation of this species, to assess the at-sea distribution of the species and its overlap with potential threats, including gillnet fisheries and tanker shipping lanes.
Activities and Resources
Pink-Footed Shearwater conservation status links
- NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service
- World Wide Fund For Nature: Bycatch Initiative
- Southwest Fisheries Science Center
General seabird biology and conservation
Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels (ACAP)
Pacific Seabird Group
- Corporación Nacional Forestal (CONAF), Chile
- Island Conservation
- American Bird Conservancy
- Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC)
- NOAA Office of International Affairs, U.S. Department of Interior
- Tagging of Pacific Pelagics
- National Geographic Society
Educational resources and opportunities
Given their trans-hemispheric movements, Pink-footed Shearwaters can serve as a powerful link between communities and schools in Chile and North America. Exciting opportunities exist to develop inter-cultural exchange programs using the shearwater as a bridge between the hemispheres. Please contact Vale or Peter if you are interested in discussing such possibilities.
Dr. Peter Hodum, Chile Program Director