Galapagos petrels are seabirds endemic to the Galapagos Islands, though they can be found foraging as far as western Central America and northern South America, feeding mostly on squid, fish and crustaceans. They spend most of their time out at sea but during the breeding season, which starts in late April, they can be found in the humid highlands of several islands.
Galapagos petrels look very similar to Hawaiian petrels, especially when seen at sea. They are medium-sized with long wings, grey-black underparts and white foreheads. Their legs and feet are pink with black webbing. They have short, hooked bills, with tubular nostrils that meet at the top – a feature of all petrel species. Their tails are wedge-shaped and white in colour.
The petrels tend to return to the same nesting site and mates every year. Due to the rocky nature of the Galapagos landscape, they usually nest in burrows or natural cavities on slopes. Once the eggs, between two and four, are laid, the pair take turns to incubate them with the male taking the first shift so that the female can replenish her energy. Their chicks hatch after around two months, and are fed by both parents via regurgitated food.
Where to see them: Galapagos petrels usually forage around the east and north of the Archipelago. During the breeding season they can be found in the highlands of Santa Cruz, Floreana, Santiago, San Cristobal and Isabela islands, between 300 and 900m above sea level.
When to see them: They can be seen foraging off shore all year round. Their breeding season runs from late April to October.
Threats: The natural predators of Galapagos petrels are the Galapagos hawk and short-eared owl which usually takes adult birds. They are also threatened by a number of introduced species. Invasive rats predate on the eggs and chicks, and feral dogs, cats and pigs will also take adults. They face nest site damage from trampling and over-grazing by domestic livestock and clearance of vegetation for agriculture. In addition, like many species in Galapagos, they are at risk from El Nino events which can affect their nesting success and food supply. It is thought that these threats have caused the petrel population to fall by up to 80% since the 1980’s.
Conservation action: Ongoing control of invasive species benefits the petrels and monitoring of nests is done by the Galapagos National Park. A survey on Santa Cruz in 2016 found that petrels had returned to nesting sites that they had not been seen at for decades, thanks to control of introduced species. It is estimated that there are now 8,500 pairs.