The White-chinned Petrel is a summer resident, but present in Falkland waters throughout the year, most commonly northwest of the Falklands from October to December. Few are seen between June and September. It has a circumpolar distribution but numbers in the Falkland Islands have always been thought to be small, and now probably declining. In 2004-05 and 2005-06 a minimum total population of 55 breeding pairs was observed on Kidney Island (464kb PDF), New Island (576kb PDF) and at a very small colony on Bottom Island in Port William (for full report go to: The White-Chinned Petrel Population of the Falkland Islands (615kb PDF). South Georgia has the largest global population of white chinned petrels, with 2 million pairs.
It is classified as Vulnerable by BirdLife International and is protected under the international Agreement for the Conservation of Albatrosses and Petrels. Significant numbers of birds are known to be killed by commercial fisheries.
This is quite a large black bird with a pale greenish bill and wingspan up to 147cm (58ins). In strong sunlight the plumage appears dark brown. Most birds have a white patch beneath the bill, but this is not easy to see in flight. The legs and feet are black. Flight is powerful with deliberate, with slow wing beats and frequent long glides. They are silent at sea but make ear-piercing calls during courtship said to resemble a steel hammer tapping a small anvil, hence the old sailors’ names of ‘Shoemaker’ and ‘Cobbler’.
White-chinned petrels return to their breeding colonies in late September. Burrows up to 2m (6ft) deep are excavated in soft tussac peat below dense tussac grass and the single egg is laid in late October or November on a small platform of peat or dry grass. The last juvenile birds leave their burrows by the end of April.
Young fledglings are covered in a soft grey down but by April they have grown their adult plumage and are abandoned by their parents. After losing weight for a few days, they leave the nest to fly out to sea on their own. This can be hazardous as they can get blown astray if the weather turns against them. Young Falkland birds disperse rapidly northwards to southern Brazil not returning to their colony to breed for 7 – 10 years. For more information on breeding sites and their protection go to: Albatross and Petrel Breeding Sites in the Falkland Islands: Suggested Guidelines for Landowners (1119kb PDF).
Feeds on squid, crustaceans and fish, taken by diving from the air, or from the surface. It scavenges around ships and follow fishing trawlers taking offal and discard.
Photos: Sarah Crofts