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First New Zealand storm petrel egg found by scientists

Date:  28 February 2014

Researchers studying the New Zealand storm petrel on Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island) in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park are the first scientists to find a New Zealand storm petrel egg. 

New Zealand storm petrels were presumed extinct then rediscovered in 2003, more than a century after the last sighting. In February last year the birds were successfully tracked to breeding sites on Hauturu. 
 
"The egg was found on the same day that a kakapo was found incubating eggs. This tale of two nests is a remarkable and joyful coincidence and further highlights Hauturu Little Barrier’s role as New Zealand’s premier nature reserve," says Warren Gibb, chairman of the Hauturu Little Barrier Island Supporters Trust, who, with two local Forest & Bird branches, funded this year’s research.

Scientists study the first egg of the New Zealand storm petrel ever seen. Photo: Neil Fitzgerald.
Scientists looking at the New Zealand storm petrel egg on Hauturu /Little Barrier Island. Graeme Taylor (DOC) holding egg, Dr. Matt Rayner (University of Auckland) in background by the burrow and Alan Tennyson (Te Papa).

New Zealand storm petrel project scientists took the opportunity when the female was off the nest to check the egg was fertile and record data.

"It was exciting to see the egg of a bird once thought to be extinct," says Graeme Taylor, Department of Conservation (DOC) Principal Science Advisor leading the team. "Measuring a mere 31mm X 23mm, the egg is white with a fine dusting of pink spots concentrated at one end." 

"The fact it has taken until 2014 for scientists to observe one of these tiny eggs reflects how much we still don’t know about New Zealand’s natural environment and particularly for marine species," says Mr Taylor.

The New Zealand storm petrel team, also involving Chris Gaskin, Dr Matt Rayner and Alan Tennyson, expect the egg to hatch in early April. Remote cameras set up at known burrows have detected birds coming and going at night.

The project has been supported by DOC with both fieldwork and the logistics of getting gear and personnel to the challenging location of Hauturu/ Little Barrier.
 
Ngati Manuhiri, mana whenua of Hauturu/Little Barrier are kaitiaki (guardians) of all the taonga on the island and its surroundings, including the translocations of any other taonga coming onto Hauturu such as the kakapo. Ngati Manuhiri fully support any ongoing research and monitoring programmes that deliver outcomes that complement their cultural values and aspirations. Ngati Manuhiri are delighted with these latest developments.

New Zealand Storm Petrel. Photo: Neil Fitzgerald.
New Zealand storm petrel at sea

New Zealand storm petrel fact file

  • The New Zealand storm petrel is a sparrow-sized seabird. 
  • They spend most of their lives at sea, coming ashore only to breed.
  • They breed in burrows, are nocturnal when flying to and from their nest sites.
  • They lay only one egg, which they incubate for over a month. 
  • The New Zealand storm petrel was described from three specimens. One is in the British Natural History Museum, Tring, a bird was found on a ship "off Banks Peninsula, New Zealand". The ship had travelled from the Hauraki Gulf. The two specimens in Museum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris were collected off East Cape, North Island during the first cruise of the French corvette Astrolabe on 8 February 1827.
  • New Zealand storm petrels were presumed extinct, then rediscovered in 2003, more than a century after the last sighting. But their breeding site—the focus of conservation efforts for any seabird—remained a mystery.
  • In the nine years following rediscovery exploration by community groups, amateur and professional ornithologists and scientists has accumulated evidence of presence at sea, yet failed to reveal the breeding grounds of this critically endangered species.  
  • In 2013 members of the New Zealand storm petrel working group was successful in locating breeding sites for New Zealand storm petrel on Te Hauturu-o-Toi (Little Barrier Island).
  • In the months following the discovery (March to July 2013) the team was able to monitor a handful of New Zealand storm petrel nests.
  • This nesting season, starting in October 2013, remote cameras and sound recorders have been deployed at the four known nesting burrows for the species. The devices will remain in place until July this year. The cameras are triggered by something moving in front of them and the recorders are set to run for six hours at night.