Chatham Island Taiko or Magenta Petrel (Pterodroma magentae)

Taxonomy

Monotypic

Classified as Critically Endangered. Breeding sites restricted to one small valley on the southwestern side of the main Chatham Island in New Zealand. Recent population estimates suggest there are still fewer than 150 birds.


Fig. 1. Chatham Island Taiko. Analysis of feather lice (Mallophaga) suggests that the species is related to White-headed Petrel (Pterodroma cervicalis), Great-winged Petrel (Pterodroma macroptera) and Atlantic Petrel (Thalassoica antartica). Photo reproduced with permission by Rex Williams and the Chatham Island Taiko Trust.


Fig. 2. Taiko Country! One of the steep and heavily forested valleys leading up from the sea into the Tuku Nature Reserve. This almost impenetrable native forest provides the only known nesting site for the Chatham Island Taiko or Magenta Petrel. Photo copyright of Angus Wilson.

 

Ornithological History

The rediscovery of this species 111 years after the first and only specimen was collect makes for a fascinating story (Crockett, 1994). Taiko (the Maori adaption of the Moriori name ) was formally discovered by the Italian naturalists Gigliolo and Salvadori in 1867, during a research cruise in the South Pacific aboard the 'Magenta'. Recognized as a new species, a mounted specimen was sent to the Turin Museum in Italy, where it was later sketched and painted. It has remained there to this day, even surviving bombing during World War II, and remains the only known specimen of the species. The link between this specimen and the Chatham Island Taiko was forged by Dr. Bill Bourne, a renowned seabird authority who had been studying seabird bone collections. Bourne working on collections housed in London, realized that the mounted specimen in Turin and the abundant subfossil remains of a petrel collected during the 19th century from rubbish heaps or middens left by the Moriori on Chatham Island, New Zealand, may in fact belong to the same species (Bourne, 1964).

Independently, David Crockett, a New Zealander who had begun studying seabird bones as a schoolboy and was familiar with the skeletons of petrels from the Chathams, recieved a letter in 1952 from Mr H. G. Blythe, a Chatham Island farmer describing the nesting of Taiko on his property. Blythe described three colonies, two of which had since vanished due to the 'advance of civilization'. He believed that there was at least one taiko nesting site (named Taiko Hill) left on his land, although he had never been there due to the very thick undergrowth and swampy ground.

Starting in 1969, Crockett mounted a series of one-man, privately funded expeditions to search the Blyth property, focusing on the Tuku-a-tamatea River valley, a natural highway from the sea and near known historical muttonbirding camps. Using a kerosene lamp, Crockett tried unsuccessfully to lure petrels into capture nets. On 3rd January 1973, using a more powerful light powered by a portable petrol-driven generator, he saw four Pterodroma petrels with dark bodies and white breasts flying around the lights. They resembled the sketches of the Magenta Petrel specimen but no captures were made. Expeditions in 1974/75 and 1976 were unsuccessful. Finally, on 1 January 1978, Crockett and his team succeded in capturing two birds. These were measured, weighed, photographed and released. Comparison of the dimensions and photographs with the original type specimen confirmed that both were Pterodroma magentae - the Chatham Island Taiko or Magenta Petrel.

Since then, more than forty birds have been banded (as of 1992) and a number of nesting burrows discovered, although all restricted to the Tuku valley. A major program to remove feral cats, possums, Wekas and rats from the area has been initiated by the New Zealand Department of Conservation (Imber, 1994a).
 

Identification

Rarely seen at sea and not known to follow ships. Superficially resembles Atlantic Petrel or Phoenix Petrel, with uniformly dark (sooty-gray) upperparts, head and underwings, contrasting with white chest, belly and vent. The forehead, crown and hindneck dark brown with darker area around the eye, most intense at the front. Chin and throat lighter brown. Variable numbers of white feathers on throat (chin to lower gape). Dark brown band extending across foreneck to upper breas, where brown feathers lighten and merge into white breast and belly. Upperparts dark brown, wing coverts, tail and sides of body paler. White flanks with variable number of dark brown, sometimes mottled feathers. Undertail coverts white, flecked with gray. Underwing mostly brownish black, reflective sheen to undersides of primaries. Relatively heavy all black bill. Dark eye. Legs and feet pink, outer half of toes and webs black.


Fig. 3. Chatham Island Taiko. Separated from Soft-plumaged Petrel by larger size, heavier bill, lack of strong 'M' marking, darker upperparts and on the undersides of the wings, shows a dark (rather than light) leading edge to inner portion of the wing. Photo reproduced with permission by Rex Williams and the Chatham Island Taiko Trust.

Crockett (1994) describes the flight as agile and fast. The variable white face markings (scalloped feathers on forehead merging into dark brown crown) were observed only at close range and with good lighting.
 

Where and When

Breeds in dense native forest on Chatham, the main island of the Chatham Island Group. Adequate studies of this elusive bird are hampered by the difficult terrain (see photo below). In 2005, the Taiko Trust reported successful fledging of 8 chicks from the Tuku Reserve, with a record 11 successful fledgings in 2006. The chicks depart to sea in the last week of May and probably return to breed after 5-9 years at sea. As of 2006, the entire world population is estimated at 120-150 birds. This figure is calculated from the number and frequency of banding recoveries and other sampling methods. Based on subfossil bones, the species must have been much more widespread and abundant on the island. There are records of hundreds of chicks being harvested at the turn of the centuary.


Fig. 4. Dense forest typifies the difficulties of locating Taiko nests on Chatham Island. Photo copyright of Angus Wilson.

Outside of the breeding season, Taiko may wander as far east as the coast of Chile as indicated by several unsubstantiated at sea reports;
(1) 3 August 1867, south of Easter Island (32° 23’ S, 92° 39’ W), see Crockett, 1994.
(2) 31 August 1867, north of Juan Fernandez Islands (26° 07’ S, 88° 50’ W), see Crockett, 1994.
(3) 5 Aug 1995, near Juan Fernandez Islands, , see Howell et al., 1996.
(4) March 1992, 150 km west of Chile at 28-29° S, see Howell et al., 1996.

The original specimen taken by Giglioli and Salvadori come from the subtropical convergence to the east of the Chatham Island group (39° 38’ S 125° 58’ W, south of the Tubuai Islands). However, radio telemetry indicates that birds approach the islands from the south and also depart in the same direction or occasionally westwards (Imber et al 1994b). Thus during the breeding season at least, the species may feed in subantarctic seas to the south of the Chatham group. This speculation is borne out by some recent sightings. In 2001, John Brodie-Good and Mark Marshall, aboard a Heritage Expeditions NZ cruise, sighted a single Taiko over a submarine canyon just north of the Antipodes Islands. In 2004, Another was seen and photographed in a similar area by Howell and others. There is also a sight record by Sir Peter Scott aboard the Lindblad Explorer on 5 February 1982, of one bird 72 miles north of Kaingaroa, main Chatham Island (Crockett 1994) and a report of three birds off Kaikoura on the northeastern coast of South Island.
 

Photographs on the web

The Chatham Island Taiko Trust has an excellent web page complete with photos of adults and chicks as well as members of the Taiko Trust at work. There are downloadable recordings of Taiko calls. There is also a full compendium of Taiko-related literature and web links. The web site provides information on the on-going efforts to control predation by feral cats, Brush-tailed Possums, four species of rodents and Weka. These introduced pests are abundant on the island and present an unrelenting pressure on ground nesting seabirds.


Fig. 5. Entrance to the famed Tuku Reserve. Photo copyright of Angus Wilson.
 

Photographs in the literature

Bird in hand, showing underside of wing. By Folkert Nieuwland on p78 of Chambers, S. (1989) Birds of New Zealand: Locality Guide. Arun Books, Hamilton.

Two birds in hand, showing upper and undersides of wings and one captive bird resting on table, taken by Mike Imber and Phil Hansboro in Enticott and Tipling (1997) Seabirds of the World: The complete reference. page 61 (panels 6-8).
 

Literature

Bourne, WRP. (1964) The relationship between the Magenta Petrel and the Chatham Island Taiko. Notornis 9: 139-144.

Crockett. DE. (1994) Rediscovery of the Chatham Island Taiko. Notornis 41 (Suppl): p 48-60.

Howell, SNG., DG. Ainley, S. Webb, BD. Hardesty and LB. Spear (1996) New information on the distribution of three species of Southern Ocean gadfly petrels (Pterodroma spp.). Notornis 43: 71-78

Imber, MJ. (1994) Seabirds recorded at the Chatham Islands, 1960 to May 1993. Notornis (Suppl) 41: 97-108.

Imber, MJ., Taylor, GA., Grant, DA., and A. Munn (1994) Chatham Island Taiko Pterodroma magentae management and research, 1987-1993: predator control, productivity and breeding biology. Notornis 41 (Suppl): p 61-68.

Imber, MJ., Crockett, DE., Gordon, AR., Best, HA., Douglas, ME., and RN. Cotter (1994b) Finding the burrows of the Chatham Island Taiko Pterodroma magentae by radio telemetry. Notornis 41 (Suppl): p 69-96.

Imber, MJ., Tennyson ADJ., Taylor GA., Johnson P. (1998) A Second intact specimen of the Chatham Island Taiko (Pterodroma magentae). Notornis 45: 247-254.



Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Rex Williams and the Chatham Island Taiko Trust  for use of their Taiko photos. Keep up the good work!



Copyright © 2002, 2006. All rights reserved Angus Wilson

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