Archived 2014 discussion: Fea’s Petrel (Pterodroma feae) is being split: list P. deserta as Vulnerable and P. feae as Near Threatened?

This is part of a consultation on the Red List implications of extensive changes to BirdLife’s taxonomy for non-passerines

Lynx Edicions and BirdLife International will soon publish the HBW-BirdLife Illustrated Checklist of the Birds of the World, building off the Handbook of the Birds of the World series, and BirdLife’s annually updated taxonomic checklist.

The new Checklist will be based on the application of criteria for recognising species limits described by Tobias et al. (2010). Full details of the specific scores and the basis of these for each new taxonomic revision will be provided in the Checklist.

Following publication, an open and transparent mechanism will be established to allow people to comment on the taxonomic revisions or suggest new ones, and provide new information of relevance in order to inform regular updates. We are also actively seeking input via a discussion topic here regarding some potential taxonomic revisions that currently lack sufficient information.

The new Checklist will form the taxonomic basis of BirdLife’s assessments of the status of the world’s birds for the IUCN Red List. The taxonomic changes that will appear in volume 1 of the checklist (for non-passerines) will begin to be incorporated into the 2014 Red List update, with the remainder, and those for passerines (which will appear in volume 2 of the checklist), to be incorporated into subsequent Red List updates.

Preliminary Red List assessments have been carried out for the newly split or lumped taxa. We are now requesting comments and feedback on these preliminary assessments.

Fea’s Petrel Pterodroma feae is being split into P. feae and P. deserta, following published studies (e.g. Robb et al. 2008, Jesus et al. 2009), in particular highlighting differences between these taxa in breeding seasonality and vocalisations.

Prior to this taxonomic change, P. feae (BirdLife species factsheet) was listed as Near Threatened under criteria D1+2, on the basis that it was estimated to have a small population (c.2,000 mature individuals), breeding on only five islands, and facing a number of threats, but there was no evidence of an overall decline. Nevertheless, its restricted breeding range was considered as rendering it moderately susceptible to stochastic events and human impacts.

P. deserta breeds on Bugio in the Desertas Islands, and a recently published study has cast light on the species’s non-breeding distribution, with 17 tracked individuals remaining in the North Atlantic during the pre-laying exodus, incubation and check-rearing periods, and wintering in five areas: two off the Brazilian coast, one around the Cape Verde archipelago, one off the south-eastern coast of the USA, and one in pelagic waters in the central South Atlantic (Ramírez et al. 2013).

It is suggested that the species be listed as Vulnerable, as proposed by Jesus et al. (2009), under criteria D1+2, on the basis that the population is estimated to include fewer than 1,000 mature individuals (120-150 pairs in 2006-2007), but is thought to be stable (Ramírez 2008) and, although the species is the subject of effective conservation actions, its restriction to one location when breeding renders it susceptible to stochastic events such as severe weather events and the introduction of non-native species, such that it could potentially be driven to qualify as Critically Endangered or Extinct within one or two generations.

P. feae breeds in the Cape Verde Islands, where an estimated 500-1,000 pairs breed (Hazevoet 1995, Ratcliffe et al. 2000), although this must be regarded as an absolute minimum as further colonies probably exist on Fogo and Santa Antão, and individuals have also been observed breeding in the central mountain range of Santiago island (Ratcliffe et al. 2000). There is no evidence of any declines, thus it is suggested that it be listed as Near Threatened under criterion D2, on the basis that it occurs at only a few locations, where it is moderately susceptible to the impacts of stochastic events and human activities, but is unlikely to qualify as Critically Endangered or Extinct within one or two generations as a result of any known and plausible threats.

Comments are invited on these suggested categories and further information would be welcomed.


Hazevoet, C. J. (1995) The birds of the Cape Verde Islands. Tring, UK: British Ornithologists’ Union (Check-list 13).

Jesus, J., Menezes, D., Gomes, S., Oliveira, P., Nogales, M. and Brehm, A. (2009) Phylogenetic relationships of gadfly petrels Pterodroma spp. from the Northeastern Atlantic Ocean: molecular evidence for specific status of Bugio and Cape Verde petrels and implications for conservation. Bird Conservation International 19: 199–214.

Ramírez, I. (2008) Thought you knew about Fea’s Petrel? It’s time to think again. Sea Change: 9.

Ramírez, I., Paiva, V. H., Menezes, D., Silva, I., Phillips, R. A., Ramos, J. A. and Garthe, S. (2013) Year-round distribution and habitat preferences of the Bugio petrel. Marine Ecology Progress Series 476: 269–284.

Ratcliffe, N., Zino, F. J., Oliveira, P., Vasconcelos, A., Hazevoet, C. J., Neves, H. C., Monteiro, L. R. and Zino, E. A. (2000) The status and distribution of Fea’s Petrel Pterodroma feae in the Cape Verde Islands. Atlantic Seabirds 2: 73–86.

Robb, M., Mullarney, K. & the Sound Approach (2008) Petrels night and day: a Sound Approach guide. Poole, UK: The Sound Approach.

Tobias, J. A., Seddon, N., Spottiswoode, C. N., Pilgrim, J. D., Fishpool, L. D. C. and Collar, N. J. (2010) Quantitative criteria for species delimitation. Ibis 152: 724–746.

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8 Responses to Archived 2014 discussion: Fea’s Petrel (Pterodroma feae) is being split: list P. deserta as Vulnerable and P. feae as Near Threatened?

  1. William Bourne says:

    I do not feel that there is adequate evidence yet to recognise P. deserta as a distinct form. The population should be pretty safe.

  2. Joe Sultana says:

    I do not wish to go into the taxonomic matter whether P. deserta is a distinct form or not. However I do not agree that the population there should be pretty safe. I was at the Desertas for a couple of days in June this year and also visited Bugio island for a day, on a Council of Europe mission. I think the population on Bugio is pretty vulnerable…we do not even know what is the exact population of the colony there…The population was estimated to be 160-180 breeding pairs (Menezes et al., 2010) Although the goat, rabbit and mice have been eliminated from Bugio, and the Madeira Park authorities have been using various methods to combat soil erosion on the plateau surface of the islands there is still the danger of soil erosion on top of the island, where the breeding colony is mainly found.

  3. Benoit Gangloff says:

    The study of Gangloff et al. (2013) brings evidence of two independently evolving lineages that are probably on their way to speciation.
    Whether this molecular evidence is sufficient in itself to describe them as different species can be discussed. However, I believe that, in light of this and other studies, there is a growing support for a split.
    Concerning the status, given the restricted breeding range and small population of P. deserta, I guess Vulnerable would be an appropriate choice.

  4. SPEA biologists ( participated in the studies that led to the proposed split (Jesus at al. 2009) and the Pterodroma deserta species is already treated as a different taxa by this organization considering not only the merits of the paper, but also all the other associated differences (significant morphological differences, breeding range clearly separated geographically, breeding season quite synchronous and completely different between P. deserta and P. feae). The species seems to have very clear and objective reasons in favor of the split recognition by BirdLife.

    Regarding the Threat Status, the Portuguese Red Data Book followed closely the IUCN category Guidelines ( and also lists the species as “Vulnerable” under the criteria D1 and D2. If the IUCN Guidelines are followed and considering that the information available for P. deserta is very accurate and extensive, “Vulnerable” seems the only appropriate choice.
    For the Pterodroma feae the available information indicates that by the same criteria it should be considered as “Near Threatened”, although I would like to alert that there is very little recent information on threats, distribution or trends for Pterodroma feae in Cape Verde and all known Procellaridae colonies in Cape Verde face very serious levels of threats (by-catch at sea, Invasive predators in the islands, direct human harvesting, habitat degradation, etc). “Data Deficient” category could also be considered since there are strong indication that some colonies (the ones in Fogo and the only ones with recent data) are facing severe threat levels and the information available for the other colonies is quite old.

  5. ivan ramirez says:

    I’ve been working with this species since 2004. my work has been mostly related to the migration and at-sea behavior of the species, but as noted above, I’ve been also involved in some of the publications quoted. I’m not an expert on genetic splits, but would like to comment of the population status and stability.
    As said by Sultana, Geraldes and others, work done by the Madeiran Natural Park has been fundamental to secure the breeding population. despite this, the south plateau of Bugio is extremely remote, monitoring of the species requires great efforts from the MNP staff and research biologists and extreme weather conditions, specially over winter where visits are very rare, could have a major impact on the available soil used by Pterodroma deserta to breed. Stochastic effects are something not to be underestimated.

  6. Joe Taylor says:

    Preliminary proposals

    Based on available information and comments posted above, our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List would be to treat:

    P. feae as Near Threatened under criterion D2

    P. deserta as Vulnerable under criteria D1+2

    There is now a period for further comments until the final deadline of 31 March, after which recommended categorisations will be put forward to IUCN.

    The final Red List categories will be published on the BirdLife and IUCN websites in mid-2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by both BirdLife and IUCN.

  7. Andy Symes says:

    Recommended categorisations to be put forward to IUCN

    Following further review, there have been no changes to our preliminary proposals for the 2014 Red List status of these species.

    The final categorisations will be published later in 2014, following further checking of information relevant to the assessments by BirdLife and IUCN.

  8. William R.P. Bourne says:

    I must have seen most of the museum specimens of gadfly petrels of the fea group, andbirds at sea off the Cape Verde Is and Desertas, and I could see little difference between them; it seems mainly theoretical. If it is wished to separate birds on their breeding seasons, what about the Blackcaps Sylvia atricapilla of the Cape Verde Islands, or on their voices and DNA what about Chaffinches Fringilla coelebs? The main argument for treating the Bugio petrels as distinct seems to be it raises their conservation status, and is this honest?

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