Remarkable Re-discovery of Beck’s Petrel

With the last verified sighting of a Beck’s Petrel being almost 80 years ago, conservationists were of the opinion that this particular bird species (Pseudobulweria becki) had become extinct. However, to the delight of ornithological conservationists, the British Ornithologists’ Club recently published photographic confirmation of Beck’s Petrel sightings.

The Beck’s Petrel was first described by ornithologist, museum collector and explorer, Rollo Beck. In 1928 Beck discovered a female petrel east of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea, and in 1929 a male was found north-east of Rendova, Solomon Islands. The small tube-nosed Beck’s Petrel is dark brown with a white wing-bar, belly and breast. It flies over the ocean with straight wings with tips slightly bent back, and feeds on food items picked from the ocean surface. The Beck’s Petrel is quite similar to the Tahiti Petrel (Pseudobulweria rostrata) and, based on this, previously reported sightings of the Beck’s Petrel have been dismissed due to lack of proper evidence.

The re-discovery of Beck’s Petrel is a result of the efforts of Israeli ornithologist, Hadoram Shirihai. In 2003, during a visit to the Bismarck Archipelago, a province of Papua New Guinea in the western Pacific Ocean, Shirihai made some tentative sightings of the Beck’s Petrel, but could not confirm these sightings at the time. In July and August 2007 he returned to the area with the hope of confirming the existence of these elusive seabirds, and during the two-week expedition Shirihai observed and photographed an estimated 30 Beck’s Petrels. In addition to photographic evidence, a bird that had recently died was found out at sea, confirming without a doubt that Beck’s Petrels still exist.

Although breeding grounds have not yet been discovered, sightings included juvenile birds, suggesting that Beck’s Petrels are breeding in the area. There are numerous islands and atolls where they could breed and it is believed that the Beck’s Petrel may only visit their breeding grounds at night. These are factors which make the detection of breeding grounds even more difficult.

The ultimate goal of ornithological conservationists would be to assist the Beck’s Petrel to breed to the extent of being removed from the endangered list. They now face the task of investigating ways to protect these seabirds from predatory cats and rats, as well as the widespread logging activity in the islands. Re-discovery of the Beck’s Petrel is sure to add impetus to conservation efforts in the area.