First storm petrel chick for Shiant Isles

Storm petrel Hydrobates pelagicus, adult sitting on nest beneath a large boulder, Isles of Scilly, UK, June

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A European storm petrel chick has been recorded calling on the Shiant Isles near Harris for the first time.

This is an important step for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project as it is the first known breeding of these seabirds on the islands.

The EU LIFE+ funded project played an artificial call of an adult storm petrel outside the suspected burrow nest site to record the chick’s reply call and confirm its presence.

The project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage and the Nicolson family, the custodians of the islands, has been working over the past four years to make these islands, five miles off the coast of Harris, a safer place for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds to breed.

Island restoration projects such as this are a key part of  helping Scotland’s struggling seabird populations develop resilience to ensure their survival.

Storm petrels were not able to breed successfully at the Shiants because of their vulnerability to predation from the islands’ population of invasive non-native black rats. These were eradicated over the winter of 2015/16 and the islands were officially declared free of rats earlier this year.

Following the eradication, the project has been working to attract storm petrels to breed on the islands as it has ideal habitat for their nests in the many areas of boulders around the islands. These birds are little bigger than sparrows and only come to land in summer to breed. Scotland’s internationally important population currently nests at only a few offshore islands because of the presence of ground predators at other potential sites.

During the summer of 2017, calling storm petrels were recorded on the Shiants for the first time. This distinctive ‘churring’ call was heard from burrows giving a strong indication that the birds were attempting to breed. However, no chicks were recorded so it was unclear whether they had been successful in hatching a chick.