This diving petrel, according to Oliver, was discovered at Queen Charlotte Sound in 1773 during Cook's second voyage. From a drawing by G. Forster, one of the naturalists of this expedition, Latham described "the diving petrel" and Gmelin founded the specific name urinatrix.
The common diving petrel is found in the Southern Ocean between 35º and 55º South latitude. They breed on islands off Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Argentina, and in the south Atlantic and Indian Oceans. There are four subspecies, two of which breed in New Zealand waters. They are found throughout the year in New Zealand coastal waters and around the outlying southern islands, including the subantarctic islands. They do not migrate.
Common diving-petrels feed in colder ocean waters close to breeding sites. They feed mainly on small krill and copepods.
The diving petrel breeds on oceanic islands. The birds return to prepare their burrows from March until the end of May. The single white egg hatches after about 53 days and fledges at 45 – 59 days old in late November – December in northern New Zealand and in January – February in the subantarctic.
As there name suggests diving petrels are excellent divers. They fly close to the water with rapid wing beats and have the ability to fly straight through waves. They will dive into the water whenever threatened by an approaching boat or predatory seabird and may use their wings to fly underwater.
The main threat to diving petrels is the introduction of mammalian predators to their breeding sites. The birds are absent from islands where there are rats and cats. Colonies, according to a Department of Conservation report, can be destroyed within 3-5 years because fleglings return to their natal colonies at 1-2 years of age and adults visit breeding colonies for 8-10 months of the year.
In 1911, Guthrie-Smith was on the tiny (28 ha) Herekopare Island, near Stewart Island, and described his experience of the home-coming of the Kuaka: "About seven of the earliest of the Kuaka began to arrive; at first here a bird and there a bird; then almost at once it began to hail Kuaka, then to sleet Kuaka, and lastly to snow Kuaka. They reached the island in dozens, scores, hundreds, thousands, hundreds of thousands, and verily I believe millions." By the time of Richdale's studies on the same island in the 1940s, the picture was tragically different. "Cats inadvertently introduced to the island, have already caused the extermination of six species of birds. On my first night I went out onto the hillside to await the arrival of the Kuaka. Every five minutes I counted all Kuakas that either landed near me or flew over towards the land. The results were a total of 106 birds."
— Greytown, 2007
Other common names: —
Scaled petrel, Peale's petrel, rainbird, titi, Chatham Island diving petrel, Kerguelen diving petrel.
20 cm., 130g., sexes alike, upper glossy black, neck and throat mottled grey, under white but underwings grey, bill black, legs and feet blue.
Where to find: —
Breeds subantarctic, Codfish Island, off eastern North Island, Cook and Foveaux Straits, Chathams, Stewart, Snares, Antipodes and Auckland Islands. Ranges around New Zealand mainland.
Illustration description: —
Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1848.
Mathews, G.M., Birds of Australia, 1910-27.
Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.
Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.
Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.
Richdale, L., The Diving Petrel, 1943.
Guthrie-Smith, H., Mutton Birds and Other Islands, 1914.
Action plan for seabird conservation in New Zealand. Part B: non-threatened seabirds, Graeme A. Taylor.
Page date & version: —
Saturday, 31 May 2014; ver2009v1