Scientist surveying rock islands off the Mendocino County coast discovered several breeding sites for the Ashy Storm-Petrel, a rare and declining seabird which was last reported nesting in this area way back in 1928. Four new colonies of the shy Ashy Storm-Petrel were found north of Point Arena and south of the village of Mendocino.
It is believed that most of the entire world wide population of the Ashy Storm-Petrel lives in California. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service estimates that there may be as few as 5,500 of the smoke-gray Ashy Storm -Petrels are left in the world. Nearly all of the robin-sized birds breed on the Channel Islands off Southern California and the Farallon Islands off San Francisco with a handful of much smaller colonies known between Bird Rock (Marin County) and the Todos Santos Islands off Ensenada just south of the United States-Mexican border.
The shy grey bird hides and nests in shoreline rock crevices as deep as seven or eight feet and only emerges at dawn to avoid predators like owls, falcons, gulls and even skunks. The Ashy-Storm Petrel are under consideration for the national endangered list. California has been investing money in restoration in the Channel and Farallon Islands, in efforts to help the declining Ashy-Storm Petrel.
The birds have a distinct musky smell that gives birders one way to try to find them. The birds like to habitat off shore along the coastline. Among the rocks where the scientist have found evidence of the Ashy-Storm Petrels was Wharf Rock near Elk and another rock formation called Casket Rock. The Mendocino sighting shows that the Ashy Storm-Petrels still persist in the northern part of their range. The teams will start searching the rocks north of Fort Bragg. The Mendocino County discovery expands the current breeding range of the birds north by about 13% to 15%, which is an important finding for the conservation of the species.
The team also discovered here in Mendocino County, breeding birds on one historic site that was thought to be long empty and found breeding birds on three new sites. These sites may harbor 100 or more breeding individuals and additional birds might be breeding nearby in inaccessible locations, which is truly important given there small population.
Searching for Ashy Storm-Petrels on these rocks is tough and dangerous work, and we are thankful to these biologists for their work. The state’s new site of marine protected areas will help support food resources for the Ashy Storm-Petrels.
The research was funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation’s Pacific Seabird Program, a Pacific wide conservation initiative established in 2011 for which the Ashy Storm-Petrel as one of 10 priority species.