Galápagos Petrels

Endemic to the Galápagos Islands of Ecuador, the Galápagos Petrel (Pterodroma phaeopygia) is listed as ‘critically endangered’ by the IUCN – International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Referred to locally as the patapegada, meaning ‘web-footed one’, this rare petrel species nests on five of the Galápagos Archipelago islands – Santa Cruz, San Cristóbal, Santiago, Isabela and Floreana – in humid regions above 200 meters. After years of lobbying by the International Council for Bird Preservation, the Galápagos Petrel was granted protection under the US Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species Act.

Measuring up to 43 centimeters in length, the Galápagos petrel is classified as a long-winged gadfly petrel. Its upper body and wings are grayish-black with white underparts. Its legs and webbed feet are pink and it has a black bill. Their main breeding season is between the months of May and October. The female lays her two to four eggs in an underground burrow where they are incubated by both parents. Galápagos petrels mate for life and return to the same site each year during breeding season. Some birds remain on the islands the entire year, where they can be seen foraging for food, such as fish, squid and crustaceans, while others migrate during winter, although it is not known where they go to.

The main threat facing Galápagos petrels is predation by introduced cats, dogs and pigs on the islands, many of which are feral. Also, the Galápagos hawk preys on all seabird chicks in the area. But the black rat (Rattus rattus) and Norwegian rat (Rattus norvegicus), both introduced species, are very likely the most destructive of all predators on the islands. In addition to plundering nests and destroying eggs, they damage local fauna, much of which is endemic and rare. It is thought that these disease-carrying rodents arrived on the islands in the late-17th century, possibly aboard pirate or whalers’ ships. Eradication of rats on the Galápagos is high on the list of conservation priorities, but this needs to be done with all due care in order to safeguard the health of local animals and birds – including Galápagos petrels.

Picture attribution: putneymark (Wikimedia Commons)