Archived 2011-2012 topics: Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan): uplist to Vulnerable?

Initial deadline for comments: 31 January 2012.

BirdLife species factsheet for Yelkouan Shearwater

Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan is endemic to the Mediterranean basin, from Corsica and Sardinia through the central Mediterranean, the Adriatic and the Aegean, with the main breeding colonies concentrated in the central and eastern basins (Borg et al. 2010). The species is known to breed in France, Italy, Malta, Algeria, Tunisia, Croatia, Albania, Greece and Bulgaria. Breeding is assumed in Turkey on offshore islands or mainland cliffs in the Aegean and Mediterranean, but there are very few data on this. A small population may also breed on the eastern Balearic Islands in Spain (Menorca), although the existence of the species here is somewhat controversial, given the taxonomic uncertainty of the birds breeding there.

It is currently listed as Near Threatened under criterion A4b,c,d,e, because when last assessed (in 2010) reports of extremely low breeding success at several key breeding colonies indicated that current declines may accelerate markedly when current breeders approach the end of their life cycle, and may be moderately rapid over three generations. Declines have probably been on-going for many years, and have been projected to continue (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008).

A recent population assessment for the species has estimated the global population size at 15,337-30,519 pairs /46,000-92,000 individuals (Derhé in prep.). The global breeding population for Yelkouan Shearwater was previously estimated at 10,815-53,574 pairs (BirdLife International 2010), although other figures pointed more to a total of 14,700-52,000 pairs (Tucker and Heath 1994) or 100,000 individuals.

There are reports of extremely low breeding success at several important colonies, particularly in Italy (e.g. 0% breeding success on Molara [where rats are present] and 23% on Tavolara [where rats are not present everywhere]; Baccetti et al. 2009). Low breeding success suffered at key colonies could result in an extinction lag and could potentially lead to rapid future population declines.

A lack of data on key sites combined with the absence of long-term regular monitoring at the major breeding colonies (in Italy and Greece) means that it is difficult to determine a global population trend for the species. However, there is evidence of both recent and historical colony extinctions, with nine colonies (comprising around 300-400 breeding pairs) having been reported extinct in the last 60 years (Bourgeois and Vidal 2008). Since 2009, one breeding colony off the south-west corner of Sardinia (San Pietro Island) has been reported as absent, possibly extinct (N. Baccetti in litt.; originally recorded by Schenk and Torre [1986] as numbering 500 pairs).

The trends of populations in Albania, Algeria, Bulgaria, Turkey and Tunisia are currently unknown, but declines are suspected in Croatia (for at least one colony [I. Budinski in litt.]) and Greece (based on long-term trends [J. Fric in litt.]). It has been reported that the species is declining in Italy by 10-50% over 13 years (N. Baccetti in litt.), in France by 6% per year (Oppel et al. 2011) and in Malta by 0-15% over 9 years (Borg and Sultana 2002, Raine et al. 2009, Sultana et al. 2011). In total, these three countries represent around three-quarters of the global population. By combining data for these three countries (see attached spreadsheet) it is predicted that, if the species continues to decline at the current reported rate, the global breeding population will decrease by more than 50% in the next 54 years, i.e. three generations. This projected decline is steeper than that reported by Bourgeois and Vidal (2008) who, on the basis of the data available on population extinctions and declines from the western Mediterranean, estimated that the breeding population may have declined by 12–15% over the past 60 years, which would equate to a decline of c.11–13% over three generations (54 years). However, the authors suggest that the number of birds at sea may have decreased by c.50% over the last 40 years, based on sightings of individuals in marine areas where the species concentrates, which corresponds with the projected population trend estimated here.

Low adult survival has been reported for the species, with adult survival probabilities for breeding Yelkouan Shearwaters across the western Mediterranean currently being too low to maintain stable populations (Oppel et al. 2011). Annual survival probabilities of below 0.9 for French and Maltese colonies were reported between 1969–1994 and 2004–2010, and survival probabilities for non-breeders (0.95, 0.81–1.0) appeared to be higher than for breeders (0.82, 0.70–0.94), but were imprecise partly due to low recapture probabilities (Oppel et al. 2011). It is suspected that immigration of birds may explain why some of these populations have not yet exhibited declines (Bonnaud et al. 2009, 2010). Low adult survival probabilities are likely to be a result of human disturbances, including fisheries bycatch, light pollution  and illegal shooting, as well as predation by invasive species (Derhé in prep.).

To explore the impact of uncertainty on the overall trend and category, a number of alternative scenarios were also explored (see attached spreadsheet). When the trend assessments were re-run, only the most optimistic scenarios altered the potential Red List category (from Endangered to Vulnerable or Near Threatened), i.e. assuming Italy is experiencing the minimum decline rate and countries with unknown trends are stable.

This suggests that the species’s global status ought to be revised to Vulnerable under criterion A4b,c,d,e, as it is projected to suffer a rapid population reduction (30-49% decline over three generations). Comments on this proposal and any relevant information (particularly including trend information for additional countries) are invited.

Spreadsheet for reference: Calculating rates of change for Yelkouan Shearwater


Baccetti, N., Capizzi, D., Corbi, F., Massa, B., Nissardi, S., Spano G. and Sposimo, P. (2009) Breeding shearwaters on Italian islands: Population size, island selection and co-existence with their main alien predator, the black rat. Riv. Ital. Orn. 78: 83-100.

BirdLife International (2010) Species factsheet: Puffinus yelkouan. Downloaded from on 22/11/2011.

Bonnaud, E., Bourgeois, K., Vidal, E., Legrand, J. and Le Corre, M. (2009) How can the Yelkouan shearwater survive feral cat predation? A meta-population structure as a solution? Population Ecology 51: 261–270.

Bonnaud, E., Zarzoso-Lacoste, D., Bourgeois, K., Ruffino, L., Legrand, J. and Vidal, E. (2010) Top-predator control on islands boosts endemic prey but not mesopredator. Animal Conservation 13: 556–567.

Borg, J. J., Raine, H., Raine, A. F. and Barbara, N. (2010) Protecting Malta’s wind chaser: The EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project Report. Malta: EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project.

Borg, J. J. and Sultana, J. (2002) Status and distribution of the Breeding Procellariiformes in Malta. Il-Merill 30: 10–15.

Bourgeois, K. and Vidal, E. (2008) The endemic Mediterranean Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan: distribution, threats and a plea for more data. Oryx 42: 187-194.

Derhé, M. A. (in prep.) Population assessment for the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International for the European Commission.

Oppel, S., Raine, A. F., Borg, J. J., Raine, H., Bonnaud E., Bourgeois, K. and Breton, A. R. (2011) Is the Yelkouan shearwater Puffinus yelkouan threatened by low adult survival probabilities? Biological Conservation 144: 2255-2263.

Raine, A., Sultana, J. and Gillings, S. (2009) Malta Breeding Bird Atlas 2008. Malta: BirdLife Malta.

Schenk, H. and Torre, A. (1986) Breeding distribution, numbers and conservation of seabirds in Sardinia, 1978-85. Pp. 449–463 in MEDMARAVIS and Monbailliu, X. (Eds) Mediterranean Marine Avifauna: Population Studies and Conservation. Munich, Germany: NATO ASI Series, Vol. G 12.

Sultana, J., Borg, J. J., Gauci, C. and Falzon, V. (2011) The Breeding Birds of Malta. Malta: BirdLife Malta.

Tucker, G. M. and Heath, M. F. (1994) Birds in Europe: their conservation status. BirdLife International Conservation Series no. 3. Cambridge, UK: BirdLife International.

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18 Responses to Archived 2011-2012 topics: Yelkouan Shearwater (Puffinus yelkouan): uplist to Vulnerable?

  1. I do not consider myself as a specialist of the Yelkouan Shearwater. However, from various involvements (e.g.long standing contact with the NGO Medmaravis network of Mediterranean seabird ornithologists, French reporter on the state of seabird populations for the European Marine Strategy Directive, personal study of the closely related Balearic Shearwater) I beleive to be quite well informed on what is know / what is inferred regarding this species.
    This leads me to consider BirdLife proposal to uplist the species as Vulnerable is, at least, conservative. I consider that an evaluation as Endangered would be more appropriate.
    Knowledge is lacking for a number of breeding sites (to make it better, even breeding sites remain poorly known in some areas) and changes in at sea numbers are hard to interpret (e.g., food-related change in distribution may occur leading to local decrease, number assesment in the Bosphorus area has always be difficult leading to hardly comparable estimates over the years). However, there is a clear consistency in decreasing breeding numbers everywhere good enough censuses are conducted, and the risks affecting the species (e.g. predation by introduced mammals, particularly rats; fishing bycatch) occurs all over the species range: thus, there is little doubt that the scenarii leading to NT or VU evaluations are underestimating present and forthcoming decline.
    Another point not yet taken enough into consideration is that an important part of the Mediterranean population is moving to the Black Sea soon after breeding. This post-breeding exodus to the Black Sea is vital to the species, thus stronger research effort is needed there to understand how the environemental changes (pollution, eutrophisation, fishing effort) known to affect this water mass are affecting the shearwaters.

  2. Croatian Ornithological Society, beside many other projects, has years of continuous study and monitoring of Cory´s and Yelkouan Shearwater population in Croatian Adriatic (after years of doubt whether Yelkouan even breed or not, me personaly proved the fact – “Breeding of the Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan in the Croatian part of Adriatic sea” Larus, Zagreb, 2005), where, beside rat problem which semmes to be, at least momentary, crucial, we fear that the danger of pollution with plastic debris and oil spills will be “Final verdict” to this sensetive species. Recently I participated the Birdlife workshop in Alghero where was able to hear many good ideas and proposals related problems and protect (but, also some funny things, as competition with Cory´s for breeding holes which, compare to, e.g. pollution with plastic and oil really semmes stupid (sorry for ugly expresion!!!). So, please, let us focus to much more real dangers and risks – I mean, rats will be controled more or less successfully, long (and other) line fishing bycatch will be controled with more adjusted fishing tools etc… But, what will happened with all of these plastic debris continuously deposit in the seas – and deposition will continue for years and years that comming??? What with all of these oil tankers crashed and stranded – and the oil spilling will continue for years and years that comming??? Please, answer these two question somebody (if possible). Thanks.

  3. I fully endorse the outcomes of the recent Alghero workshop addressed to this species.Sufficient evidence was collected and discussed there, pointing toward a red list upgrading at least to ‘Vu’.

  4. Joe Sultana says:

    BirdLife Malta has been monitoring the Yelkouan Shearwater in Malta for several years, particularly at its largest colony at Rdum tal-Madonna on mainland Malta and I do support BirdLife International’s proposal to uplist Yelkouan Shearwater from Near Threatened to Vulnerable.

    Joe Sultana

  5. John J. Borg says:

    Having worked on the species for almost 25 years and most intensely during the EU Life funded project 2006-2010, and as a participant of the Alghero 2011 workshop on the species, I strongly support BirdLife International’s proposal to uplist the Yelkouan Shearwater from Near Threatened to Vulnerable.

  6. I’m involved in some monitoring and, mainly, conservation projects regarding this species in Italy. I agree that the uplist to Vulnerable is necessary, and may be that an endagered status would be more appropriate, owing the very low reproductive success recorded in some of the most important colonies.

  7. Altough I’ve never worked directly with the species, i’ve been part (and still am) of some conservation projects dealing with Puffinus yelkouan in the Med. I fully endorse the assessment, based on the latest information and thoroughly discussed at our recent meeting in Alghero, Sardinia.

  8. I have assisted BirdLife Malta with their recent Yelkouan Shearwater LIFE project, and agree with the proposal to uplist this species to Vulnerable. More resources need to be allocated to assess the breeding(?) population in/around Turkey to get a better idea of the overall population size of this species.

  9. MEDMARAVIS, the association of scientits dealing with research and conservation of coastal ecosystems in the Mediterranean, strongly supports the outcomes of the Alghero 2011 workshop to develop population assessments for two Mediterranean shearwater species, organised by BirdLife International. The proposal to uplist Puffinus yelkouan from NT to VU status derives directly from that workshop and is based on the best available knowledge and the precautionary principle. MEDMARAVIS therefore supports this uplisting, and calls the authorities of all countries where Yelkouan shearwater is present to take action to safeguard this species, including the signature/ratification of ACAP and the listing of Puffinus yelkouan in its Annex I.

  10. The Puffinus sp. shearwater of the island of Menorca (Spain) resemble closely Yelkouan Shearwater in biometry and plumage characters. At sea, these birds would be identified as Yelkouan Shearwaters. The taxonomic status of these birds still remains unresolved.

    Five breeding sites are known on the island of Menorca:

    – Illa del Aire – at least 5 pairs, probably more birds (circa 20). No introduced predators buy high impact of tourists during the summer. No management plan for the colony.

    – Son Morell – probable breeding in 1992. No recent breeding detected. This is also a Scopoli’s colony. Predation by cats (and other small carnivore) has been detected in the Scopoli’s colony.

    – Fornells probably less than 50 pairs-no recent survey in the area. Presence of rats and small carnivore (cats). Nesting is restricted to inaccessible cliff areas. No management plan for the colony.

    – Cavalleria. probably less than 50 pairs and no recent survey. Presence of rats and small carnivore (cats). No management plan for the colony.

    – Mola de Maó A recent estimate of 300 pairs. This is the largest known Puffinus sp. colony of Menorca. Rats and small carnivore (cats and pine marten). No management plan for the colony. Severe decline during the last 10 years of the umber of breeding pairs in the NW part of the colony – predation by cats confirmed (pine marten photographed coming out a shearwater cave). Light pollution from nearby port of Mao probable cause of nocturnal predation by peregrine falcon (one falcon preying on 0.5 adul-birds/day during peek breeding season). Breeding success can’t be estimated due to lost of monitored nests in the NW (accesible) area of the colony. Main cause of decline is predation (cats). Predator fencing and control could be the only solution for the future viability of the colony.

    Bycatch in the Balearic Islands has been documented but not evaluated.

    Main conclusion for the Yelkouan Shearwater of Menorca-Spain: lack of knowledge and a very pessimistic evolution of the fate of the only well studied colony.

    The situation the Yelkouan Shearwater (in Menorca and from other colonies of the Mediterranean) seems to be quite similar to the Balearic Shearwater: lack of knowledge and updated information of population status, predation in colonies, and bycatch. An uplist of the Yelkouan Shearwater to Vulnerable is necessary – based on best available knowledge-. I agree with Pierre that an uplist to Endangered would even be a more accurate.

    All shearwater’s (and many other seabirds) of the Mediterranean have similar conservation problems. Most of them even share the same breeding sites. We need urgent gobal solutions for all species: Balearic, Yelkouan and Scopoli’s

  11. Andre Raine says:

    Having worked on this species for four years as part of the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project run by BirdLife Malta, and seeing first-hand the multitude of threats this species faces not only in Malta but also throughout its wider distribution, I would strongly support BLI’s proposal to uplist this species to ‘Vulnerable’. Even in areas where this species is well-studied and receives a level of protection from introduced predators and direct human impact (such as Malta), this species is still under significant threat, particularly if funding of conservation measures decreases in the future. Uplisting the Yelkouan to Vulnerable would serve to demonstrate the perils that this species is currently facing and highlight the importance of on-going conservation actions to ensure the long term recovery of the Yelkouan.

  12. As project manager on the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project which has dealt with research and conservation of the resident Yelkouan Shearwater population in Malta (up to 10% of global population), I support the uplisting of the Yelkouan Shearwater to Vulnerable. There is evidence which shows that the species will be facing further declines in the near future, and therefore adopting a conservative approach toward the listing of this species is sensible and will also benefit the adoption of further conservation measures for the species. There is still scope for gathering further information on less studied breeding colonies, however it is also evident that a number of human-induced factors, some of which less explored than others, are contributing to the further decline of the species throughout its range.

  13. It is clear that the species facing such a low reproductive success, local extinctions and several new threats is going to decrease even more. High number of non-breeders is just ”covering” chick and adult mortality and when we loose them (and that part of population is of limited size!) population will decrease even faster. We must not allow that our limited knowledge (quantitative data) about any elusive (or ”difficult to research”) species obstructs our decision and push such a species more towards extinction. Yelkouan shearwater is facing many problems, population increase is not proved but local extinctions or decreases are proved. New colonies are not proved, but some old are missing. Rats are reducing breeding success down to zero. Fish stock is decreasing.
    And any oil spill could destroy large amount of global population.
    And of all those problems only small number is realistically solvable. Not to mention that methods like ”captive breeding” are not possible and needed management plans should cover a long period and a huge areas.
    Maybe it is too far for this species to be uplisted to EN, but VU is at least what we are positive that the situation is.


  14. Ben Metzger says:

    Only recently I started to work as a researcher in the EU-Life+ Malta Seabird project. Following up the Yelkouan Shearwater project it aims to create an inventory of marine IBAs in Maltese Waters. The Yelkouan Shearwater is one of the project’s focus species. As even most of the monitored and protected breeding Yelkouan Shearwater colonies in the Mediterranean keep declining, a similar if not worse decline can be assumed for the entire population. Considering that outside the protected colonies many of the major human-induced threats are still increasing, I fully endorse the suggestion to uplist the Yelkouan Shearwater from near threatend to vulnerable.

  15. Karen Bourgeois says:

    I’ve studied the Yelkouan shearwater for 10 years on its main French breeding sites and I reviewed available data on the species for its entire population 4 years ago. There is an evident lack of knowledge for this species (population size, breeding sites, breeding success, adult survival, threats…) but when data are available, they generally indicate that populations are declining or threatened (low breeding success and survival rate, predation by introduced mammals…). Moreover, threats at sea (fishery bycatch, pollution) are also highly probably impacting the species. Uplisting the Yelkouan shearwater to VU would encourage further studies and monitoring of the species and would help to perpetuate on-going and launch new conservation actions which are essential to ensure the future of the species. So I strongly support the proposal to uplist the species to VU.

  16. And after my comment from january 28, and after I read all other so inspirational and engaged opinions and comments, I cannot make any other conclusion than this bird desire to be set into the “VULNERABLE” status. Thank You.

  17. Jakob Fric says:

    The Hellenic Ornithological Society (BirdLife Greece) strongly supports uplisting of the Yelkouan Shearwater from Red List category “Near Threatened” to at least “Vulnerable”, based on the available information, as well as, its gaps on the Yelkouan Shearwater population trends and threats and taking into account different scenarios of the global breeding population trends, which all indicate steep population decline.

  18. helen raine says:

    As former project manager for the EU LIFE Yelkouan Shearwater Project in Malta, I can confirm that the Yelkouan Shearwater is facing serious threats in Malta and elsewhere in its breeding and feeding grounds. I strongly support the case to uplist the species to vulnerable and feel that this will help the relevant authorities to grasp the importance of protecting the species

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