Working for birds in Africa

Catastrophic forest fire delivers huge blow to Europe’s rarest seabird

Date posted: 
Thursday, August 26, 2010

A massive forest fire on the island of Madeira has killed several breeding adults and 65% of this year’s chicks of Zino’s Petrel.

Zino’s Petrel Pterodroma madeira is Europe’s rarest seabird and one of the rarest birds in the world, nesting only on a few mountain ledges in the rugged central massif of Madeira island. Once on the edge of extinction with numbers down to a few tens of pairs, intense conservation action over the past 20 years, led by the Natural Park of Madeira (Parque Natural da Madeira - PNM) with support from SPEA, the Freira Conservation Project and Funchal Municipal Museum, has seen its population grow to almost 80 pairs.

In recent weeks, forest fires have ravaged parts of Madeira, and on 13 August they hit the heart of the central massif. This area (which is protected as part of the EU’s Natura 2000 network) comprises a very important habitat and supports several endemic plants and animals, including the Zino’s Petrel breeding colony, where many nestlings were still in their burrows.

On 15 August, as soon as the ground and soil had cooled down sufficiently, PNM staff visited the breeding cliffs to assess the damage. The results were shocking: 25 young and 3 adults were found dead, and only 13 young fledglings were found alive in their underground chambers. As well as the dead birds, the fire exacerbated soil erosion, with several nesting burrows having disappeared.

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