As she treks through Rotoroa Island’s forest, the intense, musky, ocean-seabird smell of grey-faced petrels, is like sweet perfume to Auckland Zoo’s field conservation projects coordinator Claudine Gibson. 

“I knew we were off to an excellent start, and sure enough soon after, we heard two adult petrels calling from deep inside their burrows.

“It was awesome to hear their high-pitched whistles, and we’re really optimistic that these two birds are currently sitting on eggs, and there may be more,” adds the self-proclaimed seabird lover.

Never heard the call of a grey-faced petrel?  Check it out here: 

Back in early April, when the remnants of Cyclone Debbie hit New Zealand, Rotoroa lost 15 grey-faced petrel burrows to landslips.

Claudine says despite this setback, there’s an incredible amount of petrel activity happening at all of the burrows remaining on the island, as our 15 trail cameras have helped reveal.

Claudine explains, “thanks to the efforts of our partners, Rotoroa Island Trust, the island is pest-free, so the birds are safe from rat predation there.  What we’re less sure of however, is whether the island’s weka are having any impact on our petrel population. Weka are known to predate on the eggs and chicks of seabirds on other islands, so we really want to find out if this is occurring on Rotoroa.

The good news is, the burrows dug out by the petrels on Rotoroa are extremely deep, perhaps up to three metres, so that’s quite possibly enough to keep the eggs and chicks safe. However, if our monitoring shows us that the weka are disrupting the breeding activity, we’ll investigate ways we can help protect the nesting area.”

Rotoroa’s curious kiwi are also being lured by the petrel’s perfume.

“Kiwi are definitely being attracted by the smell, but are most likely foraging for food items such as grubs and worms. They are certainly no threat to the petrels, though they will probe a little way into the burrow entrances with their beaks,” says Claudine.

As yet, we’re not sure how many petrels will produce chicks this year, as not all breed every year - but within the next month or so, our cameras will hopefully capture any chicks that do hatch - so stay tuned!