Get Petrel into a nest by Cape Verde!

A pair of Cape Verde Petrels on in Fogo Island, Cabo Verde © Jacob Gonzalez Solis

Cape Verde Petrel Pterodroma feae Chicks spend the first days of their lives protected in crevices on the Cape Verde Islands off the north-west coast of Africa. They patiently wait for dark for five months when their parents return to the nest and serve them a succulent dinner consisting mostly of small squids and fish. With an estimated population of 1000-2000 individuals, the species is near threatened on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species.

Thanks to the great efforts of the Associação Projecto Vitó, the University of Barcelona and MiraNatura, we can now take a look inside the nest of a Cape Verdean petrel in the Fogo Natural Park and watch in real time how the chick feeds the nest, grows and finally leaves a full adult.

The Cape Verdean Petrel, or Gongon Petrel – as it is called by locals – is a seabird endemic to Cabo Verde, meaning it does not reproduce anywhere else in the world. This species of bird is a fast and agile flier that usually flies in oblique arcs in moderately windy conditions. It spends most of its life in oceanic waters and only ventures on land to breed between September and June.

Cape Verdean petrels are monogamous, with male and female pairs mating for life. The species only lays one egg per year and both males and females share incubation duties that last approximately 50 days. After hatching, usually between late February and early March, the parents visit the nest at night to feed the young bird until it is ready to head out to sea, which happens between May and June.

Although it is an emblematic species in Cabo Verde, little is known about this petrel. This is mainly due to its nocturnal nature, which only comes ashore at night, and its breeding behavior. The petrel breeds in hidden caves on high, rugged mountains on the islands of Santo Antão, Fogo, São Nicolau and Santiago. However, we do know that their population has been severely decimated over the past few centuries. Because these petrels breed in areas that are also used by rural communities, they are exposed to various threats, such as: B. cat and rat predation, egg harvest, habitat loss and light pollution. At sea they are threatened by bycatch in fishing gear, habitat changes and marine pollution.

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The Cabo Verde Seabird Project, coordinated by BirdLife International, aims to identify the main feeding areas for this species, the size and viability of their populations, the main threats to each island and the most appropriate conservation measures to protect this unique seabird. To do this, an important activity is to identify the nesting areas of the species. Great efforts have been made to determine the maximum number of burrows for the Cape Verdean petrel.

“The search for Cape Verde petrels’ nests is not an easy task due to their location in hard-to-reach places,” emphasizes Herculano Andrade Dinis, Executive Director at Associação Projecto Vitó. Nevertheless, the researchers of this local organization, together with those of the University of Barcelona, ​​managed to identify more than 100 nests in 2020. “The search for nests is based on questionnaires carried out on all islands where the species reproduces and works in close partnership with farmers and communities who provide us with useful information about the mating and breeding areas of this bird. In addition, we have the invaluable support of Africa, a sniffer dog that is trained to find Cape Verdean petrel nests, ”explains Dinis.

The Gongon Petrel Livecam installed by MiraNatura is intended to give everyone, especially the local communities on Cape Verde, an insight into the life of this endemic and emblematic species. “We believe that the livecam will enable people to appreciate seabirds, participate in promotions and support conservation work. We are preparing to bring this activity to elementary and secondary schools, ”Dinis concludes.

In addition, all images captured also serve to understand the reproductive biology of the Cape Verdean petrel and the interactions in the nests, which will serve as the basis for the development of future studies.

We invite you to check them out Gongon Petrel Livecam Watch the daily life of a Cape Verdean petrel chick and, as they grow up, follow them until they leave the nest!

Finding Cape Verde Petrel nests is not an easy task due to their inaccessible location.  © Jacob Gonzalez Solís

The Seabird Conservation Project in Cabo Verde is funded by the MAVA Foundation, coordinated by BirdLife International and developed thanks to the collaboration of several local and international NGOs and institutions (National Environment Directorate Cape Verde, Biosphere, SPEA, Vitó Project, Biodiversity Project, Fundação) Maio Biodiversidade, BIOS.CV, INIDA, Amigos do Calhau, Lantuna and the universities of Cape Verde, Coimbra and Barcelona).