Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels

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Read about recent developments and findings in procellariiform science and conservation relevant to the Agreement on the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels in ACAP Latest News.

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Early-life demographic parameters of Wandering Albatrosses

Rémi Fay (Centre d'Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Villiers-en-Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the Journal of Animal Ecology on the demography of Wandering Albatrosses Diomedea exulans in their first few years of life. 

The paper’s summary follows:

“1. Our understanding of demographic processes is mainly based on analyses of traits from the adult component of populations.  Early-life demographic traits are poorly known mainly for methodological reasons.  Yet, survival of juvenile and immature individuals is critical for the recruitment into the population and thus for the whole population dynamic, especially for long-lived species.  This bias currently restrains our ability to fully understand population dynamic of long-lived species and life history theory.

2. The goal of this study was to estimate the early-life demographic parameters of a long-lived species with a long immature period (9-10 years), to test for sex and age effects on these parameters, and to identify the environmental factors encountered during the period of immaturity that may influence survival and recruitment.

3. Using capture-mark-recapture multi-event models allowing us to deal with uncertain and unobservable individual states, we analysed a long-term data set of wandering albatrosses to estimate both age and sex specific early-life survival and recruitment.  We investigated environmental factors potentially driving these demographic traits using climatic and fisheries covariates and tested for density dependence.

4. Our study provides for the first time an estimate of annual survival during the first two years at sea for an albatross species (0.801±0.014).  Both age and sex affected early-life survival and recruitment processes of this long-lived seabird species. Early-life survival and recruitment were highly variable across years although the sensitivity of young birds to environmental variability decreased with age.  Early-life survival was negatively associated with sea surface temperature and recruitment rate was positively related to both Southern Annular Mode and sea surface temperature.  We found strong evidence for density dependence mortality of juveniles.  Population size explained 41% of the variation of this parameter over the study period.

5. These results indicate that early-life survival and recruitment were strongly age and sex-dependent in a dimorphic long-lived species.  In addition, early life demographic parameters were affected by natal environmental conditions and by environmental conditions faced during the period of immaturity.  Finally, our results constitute one of the first demonstrations of density dependence on juvenile survival in seabirds, with major consequences for our understanding of population dynamics in seabirds.”

Wandering Albatross, photograph by John Cooper


Fay, R., Weimerskirch, H., Delord, K. & Barbraud, C. 2015.  Population density and climate shape early-life survival and recruitment in a long-lived pelagic seabird.  Journal of Animal Ecology DOI: 10.1111/1365-2656.12390.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 06 June 2015

Threatened Newell’s Shearwaters and Hawaiian Petrels get tracked by radar

The Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project (KESRP) has commenced its annual monitoring by radar of nocturnal flights of Endangered Newell's Shearwaters or ‘A'o Puffinus newelli and Vulnerable Hawaiian Petrels or Ua'u Pterodroma sandwichensis at night on the Hawaiian island of Kauai. Two radar trucks are being used at 18 sites along Kaumualii and Kuhio Highways along with some county roads.  These sites have been chosen because they are areas where the seabirds are known to move between the sea and their montane breeding grounds.  The radar surveys are conducted at night during the first two hours after dark and two hours before dawn when the birds travel to and from their inland breeding sites (click here).

Radar truck on Kauai, photograph courtesy of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

“Radar is an important tool for tracking seabirds moving at night and is used around the world for this purpose”, said Dr. Andre Raine, KESRP project coordinator. “Because these two species of seabirds only fly back to their colonies at night it extremely hard to see and count them.  Radar allows us to ‘see' the birds flying overhead in the darkness as a series of dots passing across the radar screen. By assessing the speed of movement, the direction of travel, and the time that the event is recorded, we can then identify the birds to species.”

Radar has been used to study the movement of nocturnal seabirds on Kauai – and other islands—for many years. The first radar surveys were conducted on the island in 1993 and have continued at the same sites on a near annual basis.

“By surveying the same sites every year, we can see how our endangered seabirds are doing by looking at the change in the number of birds passing by the same sites each year,” Dr. Raine said. “Because Kauai holds 90 percent of the world's population   and a significant proportion of the world's population of Ua'u, understanding how the populations are changing at an island level is critical to their conservation.”

Radar observations will continue until September, with the peak of activity this month.

Newell's Shearwater, photograph by Eric Vanderwerf

Hawaiian Petrel, photograph courtesy of the Kauai Endangered Seabird Recovery Project

The KESRP is a Hawaiian Division of Forestry and Wildlife project, administered through the Pacific Studies Co-operative Unit of the University of Hawaiʻi at Manoa.  Formed in 2006, the project focuses primarily on the three procellariiform seabirds that breed on the island of Kauai: Newell’s Shearwater, Hawaiian Petrel and Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 05 June 2015

Kite aerial photography can be used to survey albatross colonies

Karine Delord (Centre d’Etudes Biologiques de Chizé, Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique, Villiers en Bois, France) and colleagues have published in the Journal of Field Ornithology on using a kite to take aerial photographs of seabird colonies.  The senior author considers the technology could be used to take low-cost photographs of breeding albatrosses and surface-breeding petrels, including under windy conditions as prevail on sub-Antarctic islands.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“Obtaining aerial high-resolution images of bird nesting colonies using remote-sensing technology such as satellite-based remote sensing, manned aircraft, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles might not be possible for many researchers due to financial constraints.  Kite Aerial Photography (KAP) provides a possible low-cost alternative.  We collected digital images of ground-nesting seabirds (i.e., cormorants and penguins) in two different ecosystems using a kite-based platform equipped with consumer-grade digital cameras with time-lapse capability to obtain estimates of breeding population size.  KAP proved to be an efficient method for acquiring high-resolution aerial images.  We obtained images of colonies of seabirds ranging in size from hundreds to several hundreds of thousands breeding pairs during flights lasting from a few minutes up to three hours, from flat to very steep areas, and in contrasted wind conditions (from 0.5 to 6 Beaufort force).  KAP is an efficient low-cost method for acquiring high-resolution aerial images and an alternative to ground-based censuses, especially useful in rugged areas.”

Indian Yellow-nosed Albatrosses breeding on Prince Edward Island: suitable for kite aerial photography?

Photograph by Peter Ryan

With thanks to Karine Delord.


Delord, K., Roudaut, G., Guinet, C., Barbraud, C., Bertrand, S. & Weimerskirch, H. 2015.  Kite aerial photography: a low-cost method for monitoring seabird colonies.  Journal of Field Ornithology 86: 173-179.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 04 June 2015

Plans to rid Scotland’s Rum National Nature Reserve of Norwegian Rats to protect its Manx Shearwaters

Rum National Nature Reserve in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland is internationally important for its breeding Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus, supporting over 60 000 pairs, representing approximately 23% of the global population (click here).

An ongoing PhD project aims to investigate the behaviour, biology, and ecology of invasive rats on Rum, in the context of their potential impacts on the island's globally significant Manx Shearwater breeding populations (click here). Scottish Natural Heritage is now considering whether to eradicate the Isle of Rum’s Norway or Brown Rats Rattus norvegicus to protect its shearwaters (click here).

During 2005/06 Norway Rats were eradicated from the nearby island of Canna by ground baiting following concern that the Manx Shearwater numbers on the island were extremely low, due partly to rat predation (click here).

Manx Shearwater chick in its burrow, photograph by Jaclyn Pearson 


Lambert, M., Carlisle, S. & Cain I. 2015.  The role of brown rat (Rattus norvegicus) predation in determining breeding success of Manx shearwaters (Puffinus puffinus) on Rum. Scottish Natural Heritage Commissioned Report No. 697.  21 pp.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 03 June 2015

Manx Shearwaters optimise feeding rates when rearing chicks by alternating short and long foraging trips

Akiko Shoji (Department of Zoology, Oxford University, UK) and colleagues have published early on-line in the Journal of Experimental Biology on foraging patterns of breeding Manx Shearwaters Puffinus puffinus.

The paper’s abstract follows:

“The optimal allocation of time and energy between one own’s survival and offspring survival is critical for iteroparous animals but creates a conflict between what maximises the parent's fitness and what maximises the offspring's.  For central-place foragers, provisioning strategies may reflect this allocation, while the distance between central-places and foraging areas may influence the decision.  Nevertheless, few studies have explored the link between life history and foraging in the context of resource allocation.  Studying foraging behaviour alongside food load rates to chicks provides a useful system for understanding the foraging decisions made during parent offspring conflict.  Using simultaneously deployed GPS and time-depth recorders, we examined the provisioning strategies in free-living Manx shearwaters Puffinus puffinus, which were caring for young.  Our results showed a bimodal pattern where birds alternate short and long trips.  Short trips were associated with higher feeding frequency and larger meals than long trips, suggesting that long trips were performed for self-feeding.  Furthermore, most foraging was carried out within 100 km of sea fronts.  Critically, these empirical findings are supported by a simple model based on patch quality and travel time showing that a bimodal foraging trip duration optimises feeding rates.”

Manx Shearwater, photograph by Nathan Fletcher


Shoji, A., Aris-Brosou, S., Fayet, A., Padget, O., Perrins, C. & Guilford, T. 2015.  Dual foraging and pair-coordination during chick provisioning by Manx shearwaters: empirical evidence supported by a simple model.  Journal of Experimental Biology doi:10.1242/jeb.120626.

John Cooper, ACAP Information Officer, 02 June 2015