Storm petrel breeding success for Shiant Isles


The first known breeding of European Storm Petrel on the Shiant Isles has been confirmed. A chick was recorded calling after the Shiant Isles Recovery Project played an artificial call of an adult outside a suspected burrow nest site in order to confirm its presence. Since the eradication of the island's population of invasive Black Rats two years ago, the EU LIFE+ funded project has been working to attract European Storm Petrels, for which plenty of suitable breeding habitat is found on the isles. As a result, the confirmation of nesting this year is a massive boost for the scheme and offers encouragement for further colonisation in the future.

Breeding was anticipated on the Shiants in 2017, but was never confirmed (Mike Robinson).

The project, a partnership between RSPB Scotland, Scottish Natural Heritage (SNH) and the Nicolson family (the custodians of the islands), has been working over the last four years to make Shiant Isles a safer place for Scotland’s globally threatened seabirds to breed. European Storm Petrels have previously been unable to nest on the Shiants – 8 km off the coast of Harris, Outer Hebrides – because of their vulnerability to predation from the former Black Rat population. However, with the islands officially declared free of rats earlier this year, breeding has been confirmed for the first time.

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During the summer of 2017, singing European Storm Petrels were recorded on the Shiants for the first time, with birds heard from burrows in turn suggesting that they were attempting to breed. However, no chicks were recorded, and whether the species bred or not remained unconfirmed. Dr Charlie Main, Senior Project Manager for the Shiant Isles Recovery Project said: "It's fantastic that this European Storm Petrel chick has been recorded on the Shiants. After the adult was recorded last year, we thought it highly likely that they were breeding so to have this confirmed now is great for the project and for the species in Scotland.

"It's also another vital step for making these islands a safer place for Scotland's internationally important seabirds, many of which are struggling to cope with the impact of climate change and a lack of suitable secure breeding sites. We’ve strong hopes for the future that more storm petrels will breed here and a colony will be established. Three other calling adults were recorded this summer, suggesting that there may have been more breeding attempts.

"This one chick is incredibly special to everyone who has been involved in the project since 2014; it means that all the work we’ve been doing to make and keep these islands free of invasive predators is paying off. It also shows just how quickly island restoration can make a difference to seabirds which is really positive for future projects like this one."

Dr Andrew Douse, Policy and Advice Manager for Ornithology at SNH, added: "The recovery of European Storm Petrels on the Shiant Isles was one of the key aims of this project so to see it beginning to happen so quickly is excellent news. Hearing the call of a chick for the very first time is a real milestone and a vindication of the benefits of removing non-native species from the islands."