Peruvian diving petrel

Peruvian diving petrel 06

The Peruvian diving petrel  (Pelecanoides garnotii), whose local name in Peru is Potoyunco, belongs to the family Pelecanoides (Diving Petrels) represented worldwide by only four species.

Distribution and range of the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii):

Historically the rang of the Peruvian diving petrel was from the islands of Lobos de Tierra (6° south) in Peru  to Corral, Chile (37° south) (1) . It is estimated that the Peruvian diving petrels original population some 80 years back was counted in several millions, with the main colonies on the islands of Chincha, San Gallan, La Vieja, Ballestas, Mazorca, Lobos de Tierra, Macabí, Guañape, Pescadores, Lobos de Afuera, Ancón, Callao and Arica in Peru, as well as Iquique, Taltal and Valparaíso in Chile.

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Page author: Stefan Austermühle

However as the Peruvian diving petrel digs nesting caves in the guano layer of these sites, the extraction of the guano (= bird-droppings used as fertilizer) has been the main factor in destroying the birds’ breeding grounds. Direct hunting for human consumption by guano-workers and local fishermen was an additional factor as well as the introduction of species. On the island of Cañaral in Chile for example, the original population of Peruvian diving petrels in 1938 was estimated at about 200.000 breeding pairs. Introduced foxes killed the entire population in only a few years (2) .

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Conservation Status of the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii):

  • Birdlife International and the International Union for Nature Conservation (IUCN) defined the Peruvian diving petrel to be a species in danger of extinction (IUCN: EN B2ab(iii,v) = in danger of extinction because the area of distribution is smaller than 500 km2, the species does not exist in more than five places and the reduction of the population continues or further habitat degradation can be observed).
  • The Peruvian diving petrel is protected by Peruvian law as being an endangered species (Ministerial Resolution Nº. 01062-90-AG-DGFF). Hunting, extraction, transport or export for commercial purposes is prohibited by Supreme Decree Nº 013-99-AG.
  • In Chile the Peruvian diving petrel has been declared a vulnerable population and was legally protected since 1955 by Supreme Decree 268, prohibiting the hunting of the Peruvian diving petrel during the nesting period as well as the collection of eggs and the capture of chicks. Sale and export is prohibited and to keep them captive a special permit is required.

Present population estimates for the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii):

In Peru: 12,200 – 13,200 breeding pairs of the Peruvian diving petrel in the Islands La Vieja and San Gallan in the Paracas National Reserve (last count: 1996) (3),  with a small additional breeding colony reported on Corcovado Island, located 20 kms northwest of Chimbote (a colony of three breeding pairs and a second one of seven breeding pairs have been registered in 2005) (4).

In Chile:  220 nests of the Peruvian diving petrel were counted on the Island Pan de Azúcar in the late eighties, but in 1995 none were found. Island of Choros, Coquimbo: an estimated 2000 breeding pairs.

Migrations of the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii):

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It has long been thought that the Peruvian diving petrel is poor at flying, and indeed the bird prefers to dive when boats come close rather thanlifting off. When observed in the air it flies very close to the ocean’s surface and only for a few hundred meters maximum before it lands on the surface again. During dolphin watching and coastal-marine birding tours (with our associated travel operator Nature Expeditions) from Pucusana to Pachacamac island and even more so on the route from Pucusana to Asia Island it is common to observe Peruvian diving petrels. These locations are between 150-200 kilometers from their breeding grounds. The highest concentrations of Peruvian diving petrels can be observed from July to October. The highest daily record so far is 183 Peruvian diving petrels observed in one day between Pucusana port and Asia Island in October 2008. Mundo Azul’s research and Nature Expeditions staff have started to register the number of birds observed and the locations in order to follow migration patterns. By taking a tour with Nature Expeditions you will make it possible for us to monitor the Peruvian diving petrels migration behavior.

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Behavior of the Peruvian diving petrel (Pelecanoides garnotii):

Even though the Peruvian diving petrel is relative of the Albatross and Petrel, they have separated very early and evolved differently. Peruvian diving petrels are much better swimmers than they are flyers, using their wings to swim under water just like penguins. They feed offshore during the day, returning only at night to their breeding grounds. Their main food is plankton organisms (85.3 – 91.1%). The remaining percentage of the Peruvian diving petrels diet is fish, mainly anchovies. Peruvian diving petrels can dive up to 83 meters, but the average depth was recorded at around 30 meters (5). They nest underground. Nests are caved about 70 centimeters deep into the guano layers or nearly a meter deep into sand. If there is no good ground for digging Peruvian diving petrels may also use holes between rocks. They reproduce all year round but have two peaks of reproduction (one in November/December). They lay only one egg. Reproductive success was estimated at only 33.4%.

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Page author: Stefan Austermühle

Reviewed by: Carolyn Perkins (Captain Perkins)

Last updated: 2010.06.11


(1,3) = Jahnke, J. + Goya, E.; 1998: “The status of the Peruvian diving petrel population at its main breeding areas along the coast of Peru“; Colonial Waterbirds; 21 (1) 94-97

(2) = Araya B. y D. C. Duffy, 1987: “Animal introductions to Isla Chañaral, Chile: their history and effect on seabirds“; Cormorant 15: 3-6. En Vilina Y., 1992. Status of the peruvian diving petrel, Pelecanoides garnotii, on Chañaral Island, Chile. Colonial Waterbirds 15 (1): 137-139.

(4) = Valverde Romero, M.; 2006: “First record of the endangered Peruvian diving petrel Pelecanus garnotii breeding on Corcovado Island, Peru“; Marine Ornithology 34: 75–76

(5) = Jahnke, J. et. al.: “The diet of the Peruvian diving petrel at La Vieja and San Gallan, Peru“; J. Field Ornithol: 70 (1) 71-97

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