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Species: Pterodroma madeira Mathews, 1934
Introduction to the species
Zino's Petrel (Pterodroma Madeira), an endemic seabird of Madeira, is regarded as one of the most endangered seabird of Europe. It only breads on the island of Madeira, and nests in extremely steep ridges of the central mountain massif.
The reason this species was named Freira (which means nun in English) lies in the fact that these birds, during the breeding season and in their nocturnal visits to the nests, emit calls that sound like wailms. For many years these sounds were interpreted by the inhabitants of Curral das Freiras (Nun's Valley) as being the calls of the suffering souls of the nuns that had taken refuge in that valley from pirate attacks.
This specie was first described in 1903 by a German naturalist priest, Ernst Schmitz. In 1951 Jerry Maul from the Funchal Municipal Museum, collected a specimen, which was later considered the last trail of existence of this species for the following 18 years. In the sixties, the ornithologist Paul Alexander Zino made several attempts to find some evidence of the species, but only at the end of that decade did he manage re-track the Zino's Petrel.
In 1987, after observing that several eggs and young birds showed signs of predation, a conservation program was designed aiming to reduce and control the main predators of the species (rats and cats). This program was coordinated by the Freira Conservation Project and assisted by Madeira Natural Park and Funchal Municipal Museum.
Nowadays the Madeira Natural Park is at the head of the project and the activities which aim to conserve this species through the recuperation of its breading habitat are co-financed by the Life-Nature Program.
Zino's Petrel is an endemic to the island of Madeira.
This is a small seabird. The wings and back are almost black, with white underparts and a grey tail. It has an incomplete breast band and a delicate bill, which is a distinguishing feature when compared to Fea's Petrel. It has a rapid flight, sweeping up in the wind and then rapidly down again with a marked “W” angulation of the wings. It feeds at sea and from analysis of vomit; squid, small fish and surface crustaceans make up part of the diet.
This species is only known on and around the breeding area. They come inshore only at night and nest in the high central mountain massif. Where they go in the non-breeding season is not known. Pterodromas can be seen at sea of Madeira, but it is almost impossible to distinguish between Zino's and Fea's Petrel unless they pass very near when an educated guess can be made. The comparative bill size is the most distinguishing feature.
Breeding occurs in burrows on ledges in the high central mountain massif at about 1,600m. These ledges are not accessible to sheep and goats, which until recently overgrazed the area. About 40% of the flora on the breeding ledges is endemic.
The breeding birds return in late March and clean the burrows. The rudimentary nests are made with bits of grass in a chamber at the end of a burrow which may be 2m long and usually has an “elbow”, making access difficult. A single white egg is laid between mid-May and mid-June with hatching occurring at the end of July or beginning of August. The young fledge during the first three weeks of October.
With the discovery of a new breeding ledge it is now estimated that there are 65-80 breeding pairs
Some background on Pterodoma madeira, Zino's Petrel by Francis Zino
“Zino's Petrel, Pterodroma madeira, was first handled by the Priest Ernesto Schmitz in 1903, when a bird was brought to him from the mountains above Santo António. He had become a well established naturalist and collector with a wide experience in ornithology. Despite this and rather surprisingly, he miss-identified the bird as what we now call Fea's Petrel, Pterodroma feae, known to breed on Bugio, from where he had already collected several examples.
Padre Schmitz left Madeira for the Holy Land in 1908 and Pterodroma madeira, Zino's Petrel (as it is now known) was lost from sight of ornithologists, so much so, that by the late 50's many thought it to have become extinct.
In 1963, the Museu Municipal do Funchal, organised a scientific trip to the Selvagem islands. On this trip, , amongst others were two French ornitologists as well as Paul Alexander Zino (Alec) and his son Frank. These two Frenchmen awakened the interest in ornithology of Alec and Frank Zino.
Over the following years the Zinos and their French friends carried out many studies on the birds of the Archipelago.
In 1967/8 Alec Zino and the French ornithologists made several trips to the area directly above Curral das Freiras to see if they could hear the calls of Zino's Petrel, but with no success. The idea that the birds had become extinct was again put forward.
Alec Zino then reasoned that if a man of Schmitz's experience had not noted the difference between Zino's and Fea's Petrel, because they were so similar, even having them in the hand, then maybe their call was also similar.
They started to interview shepherds from the area of Curral das Freiras and Areeiro. To these men he played the recordings he had made on Bugio. After many interviews he eventually found one man who said he knew the sounds. This was Lucas, who lived in Curral das Freiras and identified the sound as the wailing of the souls of shepherds who had died in the mountains.
Lucas was able to tell them where he had heard these sounds and so, they walked down the path from Pico do Areeiro at night and eventually heard the sound they had longed to hear. Zino's Petrel was not extinct and we had rediscovered the area where it was breeding.
From 1984 onwards, regular night visits and observations were made at Areeiro and the breeding ledges visited, where signs of rats were noted.
In 1985, an egg, eaten by rats was found. There was no successful breeding.
The first Zino's Petrel ever ringed.was on the 12th June 1986, caught at night and ringed with ring Nº. J01150.
Examination of the nests on the breeding ledges in the summer of 1986 showed that none of the young had survived, probably predated by rats.
By the end of 1986, Alan Buckle and Andy Swash had worked out a system for protecting the birds from the rats and came out for a site inspection in 1987. They were amazed by the number of rats in the area and during their week in Madeira drew up a rat control scheme.
The group of people and institutions who had been working on the matter for years thus organised themselves into the Freira Conservation Project (FCP).
Since 1987 nests were controlled annually, many chicks were ringed and, as a result of the rat control carried out by FCP, by the last count in 2004, there was already nearly 80 couples of this species.”
- Reference: Doctor Francis Zino
Madeiran name: Freira da Madeira
Length: 32 – 34 cm
Seasonality in Madeira: From end of March to early September though chicks only leave the nest by October
Also known as:
Madeira Sturmvogel (GER)
Freira, Zino-donsstormvogel (NED)
Pètrel de Madère (FRA)
Pterodroma di Madeira, Petrello di Madeira (ITA)
Petrel Freira (ESP)
Madeira tormilind (STO)
Madeirapetrell (NOR) (SWE)
Petrel maderski (POL)
Recommend Tours to watch this species:
Zino's Night Expedition
Zino's Petrel Pelagic Expedition
Correia-Fagundes, C & H Romano. 2011. Zino's Petrel Pterodroma madeira. Available at www.madeirabirds.com/zinos_petrel_pterodroma_madeira [Accessed "Date"].