Collared Petrel fledging secrets revealed

A camera reveals the activities of a Collared Petrel chick’s final nights before fledging.

Bob, NFMV’s leading detector dog indicated burrow D59 on 3rd May 2012, but there was no breeding last year, although the nest must have been visited.

On 26th April 2013 when D59 was first checked, there was an adult on an egg and in due course the egg hatched and the nestling grew well. It was then decided to place a trail camera near the burrow-opening to record the final comings and goings of the adults and any activities of the nestling outside the burrow in the final couple of weeks before fledging, as well as any visits of predatory feral cats.

Collared petrel nesting burrow D59, Delaisavu colony, Gau
Collared petrel nesting burrow D59, Delaisavu colony, Gau

On 11th July 2013, the chick was advanced enough to have a leg band put on, and the same day the camera was set up – it worked perfectly until it was removed on 2nd August.

It recorded everything that moved near the nest entrance both night and day during that period. One of the adults last visited the nestling in the evening of 11th July and stayed with the nestling over the next day before departing the following evening.

It was 6 days later without any visits from the adults when the chick first peeked out of the burrow – on 17th July. This ‘abandonment’ of the chick by its parents is normal in petrels.

The chick becomes active as it starts losing weight and it becomes very hungry.

On the night of the 17th July, the chick came to entrance 4 times before venturing out and starting wing flapping exercises.

Thereafter for the following 8 nights, the chick left the burrow sometimes more than once for an average of 10 minutes for wing flapping.

On 24th July, the chick spent 1hr 40 mins outside the burrow wing flapping, and the following night, 25th July, the chick exited the burrow started wing flapping and was not seen again… confidently presumed to have fledged as no cat was photographed or remains found.

D59 is, we hope, now flying somewhere over the Pacific on a Collared Petrel migration… about which we know nothing other than they leave Fiji waters.

A nestling collared petrel on its first peek out of its burrow
A nestling collared petrel on its first peek out of its burrow

Wing flapping outside the burrow is a necessary evil for young Collared Petrel chicks as it exposes them to cat predation – and a lot probably lose their lives during this period.

The information gathered by the Trail Camera set up at D59 and another at Q3 have provided world first information about the Collared Petrel and confirmed the danger posed by feral cat predation.

Wing flapping - collared petrel chick exercises for its first flight
Wing flapping – collared petrel chick exercises for its first flight

Working with the Collared Petrel as enabled the Fiji Petrel Project team and the community assistants who have been trained in basic petrel conservation work such as handling petrels for measurement etc., rat baiting, cat trapping, monitoring nests and searching for new nests, to be fully experienced when a Fiji Petrel nest is found and becomes the centre of an intensive conservation program to save this species from likely extinction.