Zino’s Petrel

Also known as the Freira, the Zino’s Petrel is a small seabird that is endemic to Madeira. It is Europe’s most endangered seabird, as it is only restricted to a few ledges in the central mountains of the island of Madeira.

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Zino's Petrel is the most endangered bird species in Europe

Zino’s Petrel has large wings. Its wingspan is about 80 to 86 cm. Its body is 32 to 34 cm long, and weighs about 290 grams. Its wings are grey and have a dark “W” marking on them. It also has a grey coloured upper tail. Its undersides are blackish, but there is a white triangle near the front edge close to its body. Its belly is white and its flanks are grey. Zino’s Petrel has a mottled whitish-brown forehead, and a dark cap. Its bill is black, it has pink legs, and pink and brown-black feet.

As mentioned above, it is endemic to the main island of Madeira. It breeds on innaccessible but well vegetated mountain ledges between Pico Areeiro and Pico Ruivo. Typical ledge plants that are endemic to the area include hemicryptophytess and Chamaephytes. However, grass may be also present. Its nests are found at heights about 1650 metres. It was more widespread, as subfossil remains were found in a cave on eastern Madeira as well as Porto Santo Island which is nearby.

Zino’s Petrel is a carnivore. It eats fish and small squid. It does not normally follow ships. Predators of Zino’s Petrel include feral domesticated cats and brown rats. Sadly, even their nesting sites are not safe from predators that can adapt to other environments. 10 adult Zino’s Petrels were killed by cats in 1990.

Predation by introduced animals such as the rats and cats means that breeding success in a small population was low. In fact, no young Zino’s Petrels fledged in 1985. A year later, the Freira Conservation Project started with the aim of increasing the population of Zino’s Petrels by controlling rats as well as human interference. The control of cats started in 1990 after the 10 birds were killed as mentioned above.

At present, there are between 130 to 160 known indivduals, and 65 to 80 breeding pairs that were confirmed to breed on only 6 ledges. It is possible that there is some disturbance from viistors at night, and from the construction of a NATO radar station on Mount Areeiro. In the long term, climate change may have a devastating effect as all Zino’s Petrels nests are within 1,000m (3250 feet) at the top of the highest mountain.

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A small Zino's Petrel

This bird is currently protected by the European Union’s Wild Birds Directive. Its breeding sites lie within the Parque Natural da Madeira national Park. 300 hectares of land were bought around the main breeding site, and livestock were rmeoved from these breeding areas in order for vegetation to recover. There was in increase in breeding, as 29 chicks were fledged in 2004 and so this species was downgraded from critically endangered to juts endangered in 2004 by the IUCN. Its population also appeared to become stable or at least increase slightly in summer of 2010.

Unfortunately, a forest fire swept through the breeding site on the 13th of August, 2010. This fire killed 3 adults, and 25 of the 38 chicks. It also destroyed vegetation and a few nesting burrows. Action was swift to protect the 13 remaiing chicks, removing dead birds and burnt vegetation, reinforcing the nests that survived the fire, and setting down rat poison baits for the now exposed nesting sites. Longer term strategies include providing artificial burrows, dispersing seeds to help the surrounding vegetation recover, and using anti-erosion materials.

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