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Beck's Petrel (Pseudobulweria becki)

Mohamed bin Zayed Species project number 11252186

Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation (Project No. 11252186) - Beck's Petrel - Awarded $10,000 on August 08, 2011

BirdLife International is a global Partnership of conservation organisations that strives to conserve birds, their habitats and global biodiversity, working with people towards sustainability in the use of natural resources. This project is focusing on the island of New Ireland in the Bismarck Archipelago, Papua New Guinea.

Beck's Petrel Pseudobulweria becki is a Critically Endangered seabird. It is a poorly known species, lost for nearly 80 years until it was recorded in seas around the Bismarck Archipelago in 2007. The species' breeding grounds have never been located, so habitat associations on land are not well understood. However, it is assumed that this species breeds in burrows on forested montane slopes like many similar petrel species found breeding elsewhere in the tropical Pacific. If correct this habitat is of major importance for a species with fewer than 250 mature individuals known and a suspected ongoing population decline owing to the likely presence of invasive mammals at its nesting grounds.

The overall objectives of the project were to: 1. Search for and locate nesting colonies of Beck's Petrel for the first time; 2. Search for any other nocturnally returning burrow-nesting seabirds species among a list of potential candidates including several threatened species; 3. Assess threats at nesting colonies located, especially through trapping for invasive mammals which represent the greatest threat to burrow-nesting seabirds in the Pacific; 4. Foster knowledge-sharing between BirdLife staff, additional seabird experts and local communities in New Ireland following techniques developed elsewhere in Melanesia by the BirdLife International programme; 5. Gather information on a suite of birds and other taxonomic groups in a poorly researched area that supports many range-restricted, endemic and threatened species; and, 6. Identify future conservation and research actions within a ‘Species Action Plan' framework to prioritise next steps following this field season.

The field team encountered the largest single aggregation of Beck's Petrel ever recorded. Upwards of 100 birds were estimated to be present at one location, with a single count recording 58 birds. A gathering like this, so close to land, while not definitive, strongly indicates that they are breeding nearby.

Petrels as a group face numerous threats, both at sea and when they come to land to breed. Arguably the most significant comes from introduced mammalian predators which predate adults and chicks in their nesting burrows. Identifying exactly where Beck's Petrel is breeding is an essential precursor to assessing impacts that threats are having on the species and implementing targeted conservation actions to address them.

As well as actively searching for the birds, the survey involved numerous consultations with local coastal communities. Petrels were and are frequently harvested in the Pacific, and fear of their eerie night-time calls often lead villages to establish taboo areas in the forest where entry is prohibited. Intriguingly no-one locally knew Beck's Petrel when presented with pictures and there was no knowledge of any nesting areas locally. This, and the apparent abundance of certain petrel predators like wild pigs in coastal and foothill forest suggests they are most likely to be breeding in montane areas, consistent with what is already known of similar species.

The concentration of birds encountered in this survey was seen at the mouth of a large bay, sitting directly below New Ireland's highest peak (at over 2,000 m), Mt Agil. The bay offers the shortest straight line distance to the summit. A focus of future work will be to spot-light at night for birds returning to nesting burrows on the mountain, a technique that has proven effective in surveying threatened petrels elsewhere.

BirdLife evaluates and monitors the status of all birds on behalf of the IUCN Red List of threatened species, including assessing threats and documenting priority research and conservation actions. This survey, kindly supported by the Mohammed Bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund and the Marisla Foundation has responded to those priorities, implementing key research actions for this Critically Endangered species as part of BirdLife's Preventing Extinctions Programme. It represents BirdLife's first project in Papua New Guinea, working alongside local conservation organisation Ailan Awareness.

Project 11252186 location - Papua New Guinea, Oceania