The private life of the Fiji petrel

The private life of the Fiji petrel

“It flies out to sea, no parents, no other Fiji petrels, only instinct to guide it”

What do we know about the private life of the Fiji petrel ? Well actually, nothing because we are yet to find a nest and study its occupants. But it is very likely similar to other pelagic (ocean-living) petrels, and something like this.

Life starts with a single nestling (always only one) in a burrow, somewhere in the forests of Gau, being fed every few nights by its parents. And when the parents know the nestling is large enough, they just stop coming back to feed it. They resume their life, far away from Gau, on the high seas. The nestling does not know this and waits for its food providers, it begins to spend more time outside the burrow practicing its flying – this is the dangerous time when feral cats are about.

Another night and another, no parents. After a week it is really hungry and it can wait no longer; there is a good breeze that night, and off it flies. It flies out to sea, no parents, no other Fiji petrels, only instinct to guide it.

It is very likely that for the next four years, may be more, it will never see another Fiji petrel as it survives out on the opens seas, because there are just so few left. It never comes to land, if it rests, it rests on the ocean. Otherwise it is a life of constant flight and food searching. But then the urge begins and the now adolescent Fiji petrel starts flying instinctively back to Gau and it may be only then that it comes across another Fiji Petrel.

Instinctively, it may attempt some courting behaviour, it may come down to the ground in response to a calling Fiji Petrel, it may even enter a burrow, it may even attempt a bit of burrow-digging, it will be calling too. But it wont breed that year. It might be another one or two years before it bonds at the site with a suitable mate and they have dug a suitable burrow. Then the next year, they will both meet at the burrow and maybe spending a couple of days and nights in the burrow where they will mate. After which they both leave for the open seas.

It is unlikely that they will be flying together, but over the next two weeks or so, an egg will develop and then the female will return to the burrow, almost certainly alone, and lay her egg. Three or four days later the male will appear and take over incubation of the egg, and they will then take turns until the egg hatches and continuing while it is a young nestling.

After two or three weeks, the nestling will remain by itself in the burrow and each parent will visit it in turn every few nights.

The parents will be feeding the nestling independently, never meeting, almost certainly making a return journey with food of several hundred, quite possibly a thousand kilometres.

When they know the nestling has had enough food, they return no more.

And so the cycle repeats itself, the lonely life of a rare pelagic petrel.