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Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae Scientific name definitions

Jon Fjeldså, Carles Carboneras, Guy M. Kirwan, Francesc Jutglar, Christopher J. Sharpe, and Ernest Garcia
Version: 1.0 — Published March 4, 2020
Text last updated November 17, 2016

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Introduction

Taxonomic note: Lump. This account is a combination of multiple species accounts originally published in HBW Alive. That content has been combined and labeled here at the subspecies level. Moving forward we will create a more unified account for this parent taxon. Please consider contributing your expertise to update this account.

Field Identification

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

35–38 cm (1); 251–333 g (2); wingspan 88–94 cm (2). Greyish gadfly petrel with white abdomen and mostly grey underwing. Has brown-grey and whitish spotting on forehead becoming scaly pattern on fore-superciliary area, plainer grey on crown back to rump and anterior base of upperwing, rest of upperwing  similar but often darker, especially over most of remiges and on broad dark grey-brown diagonal band meeting on rear tertials forming usual M pattern on upperparts  , uppertail-coverts and tail usually paler grey; tail often palest on outer rectrices; underwing  rather dark greyish and often rather plain, darkest on median to marginal coverts with broad paler or even white area at base, on leading edge including anterior axillaries, the tips of median coverts often pale grey or whitish, and may form pale diagonal bar on central wing; blackish-grey patch through eye, white over side of forehead to entire lower head and rest of underparts, but upper flanks often have variable greyish vermiculations or smudging (and an aberrant individual with entirely ash-grey underparts and underwing-coverts has been recorded) (3), and grey of nape extends over neck-sides, often appearing as a broad incomplete collar  ; iris dark brown; bill black; legs and base of feet pale fleshy pink, rest of feet blackish. Sexes alike. Juvenile similar to adult.

 

Probably impossible to separate at sea from P. deserta, except perhaps by using moult timing: P. feae moults the primaries between Apr/Jun–Jul/Sep, versus P. deserta, which replaces its primaries from Dec/Feb–Mar/May (4); however, P. deserta is more heavily built and large male P. deserta have a front-heavy, 'brutish', appearance (5).  Similar to P. mollis and P. madeira in size and plumage, with bill size (27–31 mm, depth at base 12·1–14·8 mm) (2) intermediate between P. madeira (22–29 mm, 10–12·6 mm) (2) and P. deserta (27–34 mm, 12·5–17·5 mm) (2), and from first-named also by incomplete collar, usually paler grey uppertail and its coverts, and often less contrasting anterior superciliary. Other characters difficult to judge but present species has longer primaries, the head looks slightly smaller and less protruding than that of P. mollis. It tends to look slightly longer-tailed than P. madeira if well-seen in flight from lateral view (slightly greater difference between projections of anterior and rear body respect wing-base). Both P. feae and P. deserta differ from P. madeira  in appearing larger and bulkier in flight, with longer and broader wings; the underwings are typically all dark in P. feae and P. deserta whereas some P. madeira have extensive white on the underwing coverts (5).

 

Off E North America risk also of confusion with P. hasitata and pale-morph P. arminjoniana, but former is larger, bulkier and appears much more black and white, and latter has dark breast, usually some dark feathering on undertail-coverts and all-dark upperparts, while in same waters P. cahow should be readily distinguished from present species (1).

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

35–37 cm; 295–355 g; wingspan c. 95 cm. Plumage dark grey above , with white lores  and lowermost forehead contrasting with black orbital area; rump darker than back and uppertail-coverts; upperwing  darker, especially on distal half, being paler grey on greater , distal median and proximal lesser coverts, underwing  grey, blackish on distal leading edge and on secondaries, mostly white on axillaries and proximal wing-coverts; wedge-shaped tail somewhat paler grey above than most of upperparts, also pale below; white underparts  , with dark grey patch on each side of upper breast (extension of grey of upperparts); iris dark; bill black; legs pinkish and blackish. Differs from very similar P. feae mainly in deeper bill (average 12·9 mm); <em>P. madeira</em> differs from present species in being visibly smaller, more delicate in jizz, and more slender-billed, with distinct white band on central underwing (especially in “snowy-winged” variant of madeira) (2); other characters difficult to judge and at best supportive, but madeira tends to look slightly shorter-tailed than either P. feae or P. deserta, while wings tend to appear rounder-tipped (outermost primary either equal to, or shorter than, next outermost) and inner underwing-covert patch is unbarred (usually barred in deserta and especially feae) (2). Sexes similar. Juvenile resembles adult. Separated (like other members of feae complex) from mollis by following characters: mollis often has rather rounded head, short neck and deep breast grading into chunky, squat belly, with shorter, rounder rear, unlike slimmer rear body of feae complex, while relative to chunky belly, the wings appear shorter and more slender; white inner underwing patch much smaller, restricted to leading and smaller lesser coverts and a few axillaries in mollis, as opposed to much broader, triangular white patch in feae complex; rump, uppertail-coverts and tail of mollis rather dark grey, matching much of rest of upperparts, unlike the feae complex, which normally show clearly paler grey contrast in this region; restricted white throat together with broad and unbroken (or only narrowly broken) breastband is suggestive of mollis, but feae complex can show large breast-side patches, which at certain angles can appear superfically similar; and facial pattern of mollis highly characteristic, but similar patterns (or nearly so) can develop in feae complex (2).

Systematics History

Editor's Note: This article requires further editing work to merge existing content into the appropriate Subspecies sections. Please bear with us while this update takes place.

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Until recently, considered conspecific with P. mollis and P. madeira; moreover, in HBW the form deserta (see that species) was treated as a synonym. Recent molecular studies indicate that present species may be closely related to P. cahow and P. madeira, and also that all three, as well as P. hasitata, merit species status (6). Subsequent genetic analyses suggest that present species, P. deserta and P. madeira may form a clade (7). Monotypic.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

This taxon was previously considered dubious and the population included within a monotypic P. feae (itself sometimes treated as conspecific with P. mollis). It has recently been accorded rank of full species on basis primarily of molecular data (7), although there are also differences between the two in bill morphology (slight, allow 1) and vocalizations (seemingly moderate, but possibly decisive, so 3); moreover, there is a marked difference from P. feae in timing of breeding (Jul–Aug vs Dec–Jan) (currently unscorable on system used herein, but clearly important). Treatment as separate species is here provisionally accepted on the basis of remarkable disjunction in breeding season and other characters. Monotypic.

Subspecies


EBIRD GROUP (MONOTYPIC)

Fea's Petrel (Fea's) Pterodroma feae feae Scientific name definitions

Distribution

Atlantic Ocean, breeding in Cape Verde Is.

EBIRD GROUP (MONOTYPIC)

Fea's Petrel (Desertas) Pterodroma feae deserta Scientific name definitions

Distribution

Atlantic Ocean, breeding on Bugio I, in Desertas Is, off Madeira (8). Recently recorded a few times in Azores (9).

Distribution

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Atlantic Ocean, breeding in Cape Verde Is.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Atlantic Ocean, breeding on Bugio I, in Desertas Is, off Madeira (8). Recently recorded a few times in Azores (9).

Habitat

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Marine and pelagic. Breeds in rocky, mountainous areas, from c. 500 m (10), on Fogo up to 2200 m above sea-level (on which island mainly occurs above 1600 m) (11); also on steep slopes and vertical cliffs; formerly in woodland.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Marine and pelagic.

Migration Overview

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Disperses over subtropical and tropical waters of N Atlantic, although some birds present around breeding islands during much of year (but few records May–Sept) (10); may reach equator regularly, but probably does not range far into S Atlantic. Tracking of 13 individuals marked with geolocators at Fogo I showed that all remained around the breeding area during their non-breeding season (12). Records from Canary Is not identified to taxon (P. deserta/P. feae) (13). Perhaps occurs N in NE Atlantic to SW England and W Ireland (these latter suggested to be birds perhaps returning from Gulf Stream, see below) (14), with accepted records from former in Jul 2001, Aug 2001 (15) and Sept 2004 (16), but the relevant records committees do not discriminate between P. feae and P. deserta, treating them as a single species, and these two are probably only distinguishable at sea using moult timing (1); in addition, some 47 records either involving P. madeira or P. feae had been accepted in Britain by end of 2011 (17) and two records from French waters as P. feae (including P. deserta) (18). There is also one accepted record for P. feae from Spain (19). Probably both this species and P. deserta present in Gulf Stream waters off E North America (generally recorded mid May to late Sept), where first observed in 1981, principally off North Carolina (where annual since 1991 and up to four birds have been recorded on a single pelagic trip) (20), casual N to Virginia (from where there is also an inland record) and exceptionally to Nova Scotia, with a Nov report off Georgia (1). Exceptional vagrant record from Israel, found dead on shore of Dead Sea, early Feb 1963, refers either to present species or P. deserta (21).

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Disperses over subtropical waters in E North Atlantic. Arrives back in Madeira waters around Jun. Tracking of 16 individuals marked with geolocators showed that during May-Sept, in the breeding period, they exploited a vast oceanic area between the Canaries and Azores, while during Nov-Mar, 23% of sampled birds stayed around Cape Verde, overlapping there with breeding P. feae and wintering P. madeira, and 77% migrated further south to different areas between the Equator and southern Brazil (12).

Diet and Foraging

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Little known; squid and small fish recorded.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Squid (Teuthida) and small fish.

Sounds and Vocal Behavior

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

On breeding islands a range of wailing, cackling (the local name of gon-gon is in onomatopoeic reference to this call) (22), ululating and hiccuping calls. Silent at sea.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Various moaning calls, divided into two types, Moaning and Excited Calls, and considered generally very similar to those of P. madeira, but quite different to those of P. mollis (23); also short, sharply rising single notes sounding almost whimpering, also three-note whimpering calls; most calls, including moans, typically end with a very abrupt rising squeaky “wik”, which is far less common in P. feae calls. Moaning calls have high- and low-pitched variants, which are speculated to be sex-related (23). Differs further from latter in that moans have less drop in pitch through main part of call.

Breeding

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Very poorly known. Starts Nov when first birds return to Cape Verde Is, laying Dec–Jan (22). Colonial; nests in burrows or rock crevices on cliffs. Clutch single white egg, mean size 58·4 mm × 43·6 mm (22); fledging mostly in May, but no information on incubation or fledging periods (22).

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

Egg-laying in Jul–Aug, and young leave nests during Dec. Normally nests in unused rabbit burrow or in burrow that it excavates itself, rather than in rock crevice (as is the rule for P. feae in Cape Verde Is). Clutch 1 egg; combined incubation and nestling periods c. 4–5 months. No other information.

Conservation Status

Fea's Petrel (Fea's)

Not globally threatened. Currently treated as Near Threatened. Total population estimated at c. 2000 mature individuals by BirdLife International breeding on Fogo (minimum 80 pairs, with a previously unknown colony recently reported at Monte Vaca) (11), Santo Antão (minimum 200 pairs), São Nicolau (c.30 pairs) and just small numbers on Santiago, but additional colonies probably exist on Fogo and Santa Antão, and bred in C mountains of Santiago in 1960s (24). Thought to number just a few hundred pairs in 1969, more recently estimated at 500–1000 pairs in late 1990s (22) or 250–500 pairs in 2000s (2). These suffer predation by cats, rats and monkeys; highly appreciated by islanders for fat, as attributed medicinal properties. Formerly bred in montane woodland on Cape Verde Is; no woods remain and birds have been displaced to inaccessible sites on high ground. Survival of species depends on prompt termination of human exploitation and eradication of introduced predators. A national park has been established at Chã das Caldeiras on Fogo, with the conservation of P. feae now incorporated into the park’s agenda, but the administration has serious financial and operational problems. Since 2006, an eradication programme for rabbits and mice has been in force, and is ongoing.

Fea's Petrel (Desertas)

VULNERABLE. Restricted-range species: present in Madeira and Canary Islands EBA. Population breeding on Bugio in summer months has been estimated to number a few hundred. In 2010, breeding numbers estimated at 160–180 pairs, down from 170–260 pairs in 2004, although the population is thought to be stable BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Pterodroma deserta. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/06/2015. . This species is clearly rare or, at best, uncommon and merits strict protection. Potential threats at nesting sites on Bugio are predation and disturbance by Yellow-legged Gulls (Larus michahellis ) and soil erosion BirdLife International (2015) Species factsheet: Pterodroma deserta. Downloaded from http://www.birdlife.org on 22/06/2015. . Dedicated fieldwork is required in order to ascertain whether any further colonies exist in the E Atlantic region, e.g. in the Azores. Monitoring programmes have already been established. This European endemic is considered Vulnerable at the regional level (25).

Recommended Citation

Fjeldså, J., C. Carboneras, G. M. Kirwan, F. Jutglar, C. J. Sharpe, and E. F. J. Garcia (2020). Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae), version 1.0. In Birds of the World (S. M. Billerman, B. K. Keeney, P. G. Rodewald, and T. S. Schulenberg, Editors). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bow.feapet1.01