The Gould’s petrel is a small bird which breeds almost exclusively on several small islands off Port Stephens on the New South Wales coast
Gould’s petrel is 30cm in length with a wingspan of 75 cm and weigh around 180–200g. Males are slightly larger than females and Gould’s petrels spend most of their life at sea coming ashore only to breed.
Its primary breeding site is on Cabbage Tree Island (John Gould Nature Reserve) which is approximately 5km from Tomaree Headland and part of the Tomaree National Park.
John Gould described this bird in 1844, naming it Cook’s petrel after James Cook but it was renamed Gould’s petrel by W.B. Alexander in his classic work Birds of the Ocean.
Prior to the 1990s it was thought that the Australian subspecies of Gould’s petrel bred only on Cabbage Tree Island off Port Stephens in New South Wales.
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The survival of the Gould’s Petrel is a success story for the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.
In December 2009, just one month after it had been confirmed that rabbits had been eliminated from Cabbage Tree Island, one single Gould’s petrel was found incubating an egg on nearby Broughton Island.
Today, the nominate subspecies breeds on at least five islands off New South Wales (Cabbage Tree Island, Boondelbah Island, Broughton Island, Little Broughton Island, and Montague Island).
After the discovery of a small number of breeding pairs on neighbouring Boondelbah Island, translocation of 200 chicks in 1999 and 2000 has established a small satellite colony that breed in artificial nest boxes installed prior to the first translocation.
Boondelbah Island, off the entrance to Port Stephens.
On Cabbage Tree Island, birds arrive in mid-October to secure their nest site and reunite with their mate. They nest amongst rocks and boulders and lay their eggs between November and December under fallen palm fronds, in hollow trunks of fallen palms and between buttresses of fig trees.
The young fledge in April to May and migrate to the central and eastern Pacific Ocean.
The NPWS arrested a declining population (estimated at around only 200 individuals in 1990) by addressing the major problems threatening their survival –
Sticky fruit of the birdlime tree which immobilised birds
Predation by pied currawongs and ...
... habitat degradation caused by grazing of European rabbits.
Active conservation management for the Australian subspecies of Gould’s petrel has been so successful that the conservation status of the subspecies has been downgraded from endangered to vulnerable.
In 2010, the total population of the Australian subspecies was estimated to be 2,500 individuals and increasing.
Both Cabbage Tree and Boondelbah Islands are gazetted nature reserves under the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Act and access is only permitted for scientific and conservation purposes, but they can be readily viewed from marine leisure craft.