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Overview

Comprehensive Description

The Snow Petrel (Pagodroma nivea) is a fairly small petrel (30 to 40 cm in length with a wingspan of 75 to 95 cm and a mass of 240 to 460 g) with entirely white plumage. It has conspicuous dark eyes, a very small black bill, and bluish gray feet. In poor light the plumage appears gray, especially on the underparts. Females average slightly smaller than males and juveniles have more extensive grayish barring on the upperparts. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

Snow Petrels are year-round residents of Antarctica and are very closely associated with pack ice or icebergs and ice floes. Snow Petrel flight is very erratic, almost batlike, with short, rapid wingbeats and infrequent gliding. Snow Petrels tend to fly around 10 meters above the water and may fly very high over land. They are frequently seen hovering low over the water, but rarely observed swimming, preferring to rest on icebergs or ice floes.They eat mainly fish, along with cephalopods, other mollusks, and euphausiids (krill). They apparently also feed on seal placentas and carcasses of seals, whales, seabirds, and penguins, as well as excreta. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

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Distribution

Range Description

The Snow Petrel is found exclusively on Antarctica and some neighbouring islands, including South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands (del Hoyo et al. 1992) .

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circum-antarctic
  • UNESCO-IOC Register of Marine Organisms
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Snow Petrels are endemic to Antarctica and the surrounding Southern Ocean, with a circumpolar breeding distribution (see Croxall et al. 1995 for detailed maps of all reported breeding localities).

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Physical Description

Morphology

The Snow Petrel is a fairly small petrel (30 to 40 cm in length with a wingspan of 75 to 95 cm and a mass of 240 to 460 g) with entirely white plumage. It has conspicuous dark eyes, a very small black bill, and bluish gray feet. In poor light the plumage appears gray, especially on the underparts. Females average slightly smaller than males and juveniles have more extensive grayish barring on the upperparts. Beneath the white plumage, the down is dark gray. The chick is lavender gray on the upperparts, head, and foreneck; ivory or grayish white on the abdomen; and pure white on the forehead. The second down is slightly lighter than the first. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

Molt occurs between November and April, during the breeding cycle. Body molt begins during incubation. Flight feathers molt as young near fledging. Unsuccessful and pre-breeders molt earliest. (Watson 1975)

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Type Information

Cotype; Cotype for Pagodroma nivea
Catalog Number: USNM A15528
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: unknown; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): Collector Unknown
Locality: South Pacific Ocean
  • Cotype: Peale. 1848. U.S. Exploring Expedition. 8 (mamm. and orn.): 295, pl. lxxxi.; Cotype: Matthews. October 30, 1928. Bull. British Orn. Club. 49: 19.
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Cotype; Cotype for Pagodroma nivea
Catalog Number: USNM A15536
Collection: Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Vertebrate Zoology, Division of Birds
Sex/Stage: unknown; Adult
Preparation: Skin: Whole
Collector(s): Collector Unknown
Locality: South Pacific Ocean
  • Cotype: Peale. 1848. U.S. Exploring Expedition. 8 (mamm. and orn.): 295, pl. lxxxi.; Cotype: Matthews. October 30, 1928. Bull. British Orn. Club. 49: 19.
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Ecology

Habitat

Habitat and Ecology

Habitat and Ecology
This marine species is closely linked with pack ice, occuring mainly in areas with 10-50% ice cover. It feeds mainly on krill, fish, squid and carrion, feeding mainly on the wing by dipping but also by diving and surface-seizing. Breeding starts in November in most areas, forming colonies of variable size on cliffs and rock faces up to 325 km inland and at altitudes of as much as 2400 m (del Hoyo et al. 1992).


Systems
  • Terrestrial
  • Marine
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Depth range based on 864 specimens in 1 taxon.
Water temperature and chemistry ranges based on 469 samples.

Environmental ranges
  Depth range (m): 0 - 0
  Temperature range (°C): -1.672 - 11.081
  Nitrate (umol/L): 7.015 - 30.285
  Salinity (PPS): 33.536 - 34.544
  Oxygen (ml/l): 6.214 - 8.233
  Phosphate (umol/l): 0.722 - 2.073
  Silicate (umol/l): 2.119 - 89.471

Graphical representation

Temperature range (°C): -1.672 - 11.081

Nitrate (umol/L): 7.015 - 30.285

Salinity (PPS): 33.536 - 34.544

Oxygen (ml/l): 6.214 - 8.233

Phosphate (umol/l): 0.722 - 2.073

Silicate (umol/l): 2.119 - 89.471
 
Note: this information has not been validated. Check this *note*. Your feedback is most welcome.

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Snow Petrels are almost entirely restricted to the colder antarctic waters with pack ice or icebergs and ice floes (Watson 1975).

The Snow Petrel is closely associated with pack ice, occurring mainly in areas with 10 to 50% ice cover. Snow Petrels do not land on the water, preferring to rest on icebergs or ice floes. (Carboneras 1992)

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Dispersal

Snow Petrels appear to be relatively sedentary in some locations, with most birds staying in the vicinity of the colony throughout the year, dispersing only to adjacent waters. Snow Petrels seldom stray far from pack ice except at their northernmost breeding grounds (Bouvetoya, South Georgia). (Carboneras 1992)

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Associations

Snow Petrels eat mainly fish, along with cephalopods, other mollusks, and euphausiids (krill). They apparently also feed on seal placentas and carcasses of seals, whales, seabirds, and penguins, as well as excreta. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

Skuas (Catharacta spp.) are important predators of Snow Petrels. Ectoparasites include the feather mite Zachvatkinia hydrobatidii; the feather lice Ancistrona sp., Austromenopon (?) daptionis, Pseudonirmus charcoti, and Saemundssonia antarctica; and the flea Glaciopsyllus antarcticus. Glaciopsyllus antarcticus is endemic to the Antarctic continent, where it is known to parasitize a variety of seabird species. (Watson 1975; Pilgrim and Palma 1994; Steele et al. 1997).

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General Ecology

Ecology

Berman et al. (2009) studied senescence (decline in annual rate of survivorship or fecundity as a function of increasing age) in the Snow Petrel. Snow Petrels have low fecundity, high annual adult survivorship, and long lifespans. The authors' data and analysis indicated an annual increase in breeding success (probability of a chick fledging from a laid egg) for about the first 10 years of life (at which point breeding success rate was 50%). High breeding success was then maintained (and possibly even increased) until the oldest ages. Breeding probability (probability of a bird of a particular age breeding) increased from 0 at 5 years of age to 45% at 6 years, then increased at an annual rate of 0.02, but over an extended period (between 6 and 34 years of age); by the end of this period, approximately 80 per cent of birds were breeding. After this, breeding probability dropped abruptly. Thus, Snow Petrels did not show any sign of senescence in breeding success, and breeding probability did not decrease before 34 years of age (maximum longevity is more than 46 years).

Ageing is associated with a decline in basal metabolic rate (BMR) in many species, including humans. Moe et al. (2007) undertook a cross-sectional study to measure BMR of Snow Petrels aged between 8 and 39 years. They found that the BMR of the Snow Petrel does not decrease with increasing age. BMR seems to be sustained at a fixed level throughout the investigated age range, a finding the authors' discuss in the context of evolutionary theories of ageing.

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Life History and Behavior

Behavior

Breeding Category

Breeding
  • Woehler E.J. (compiler) 2006. Species list prepared for SCAR/IUCN/BirdLife International Workshop on Antarctic Regional Seabird Populations, March 2005, Cambridge, UK.
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Behaviour

Snow Petrel flight is very erratic, almost batlike, with short, rapid wingbeats and infrequent gliding. Snow Petrels tend to fly around 10 meters above the water and may fly very high over land. They are frequently seen hovering low over the water, but rarely observed swimming. Flocks are typically seen sitting on ridges of icebergs. (Watson 1975)

Snow Petrels feed on the wing by dipping and, occasionally, by diving and surface-seizing. They sometimes scavenge on land. (Carboneras 1992)

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Life Expectancy

Adult annual mortality is 4 to 7%, yielding a mean adult life expectancy of 14 to 20 years (Carboneras 1992).

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Lifespan, longevity, and ageing

Maximum longevity: 20 years (wild)
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Reproduction

Snow Petrels breed colonially, nesting in small to large cliff colonies, usually near the sea but also several hundred km inland (as much as 440 km, Goldsworthy and Thomson 2000), at altitudes up to 2400 meters. Breeding starts in November in most areas. The nest is a simple pebble-lined scrape, usually in a deep rock crevice with overhanging protection. Nests often contain dehydrated eggs and mummified corpses of chicks from previous years. Just a single, white egg is laid. The incubation period is 41 to 49 days and young are brooded an additional 8 days. Fledging occurs at an age of around 41 to 54 days. The chick remains in the nest for about 7 weeks. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

Severe weather can be an important source of mortality, especially heavy snow that blocks nest entrances and causes adults to abandon eggs and allows chicks to starve. Egg mortality is around 50% and chick mortality is 10 to 15%, but mean annual adult survival is 93 to 96%. (Watson 1975; Carboneras 1992)

The extent of sea-ice during fall and winter influences percentage of birds breeding during the following summer (many Snow Petrels do not breed each year), breeding success of breeders, and fledgling body condition. Extensive sea-ice cover during the winter months appears to be associated with high population densities of krill (an important food for Snow Petrels) during summer, when petrels are feeding their young. Decisions to breed are affected by food availability in winter, whereas breeding success and fledgling quality are affected by food availability in summer, which in turn is affected by sea-ice extent in winter because of a time lag. Snow Petrels feed largely on krill (Euphausia superba and E. crystallorophias) and on fish (Antarctic Silverfish, Pleuragramma antarcticum) both during and outside the breeding season, although there are indications that cephalopods (e.g., the squids Psychroteuthis glacialis and Gonatus antarcticus) may play a more important role in some localities. Spring air temperature also influences breeding success. Increased air temperature during spring increases breeding success, presumably because low air temperature in spring results in some nest sites (crevices) being made inaccessible by snow and ice, a common cause of Snow Petrel breeding failure. (Barbraud and Weimerskirch 2001 and references therein; Jenouvrier et al. 2005)

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Evolution and Systematics

Evolution

Systematics and Taxonomy

Two Snow Petrel subspecies, differing markedly in size, are often recognized. These are reported to breed sympatrically yet remain distinct in some locations, but other reports indicate extensive hybridization. Some researchers have proposed treating the two forms as distinct species, but others have concluded that although they have evolved in partial isolation, they are not sufficiently distinct to warrant treatment as separate species. (Carboneras 1992)

Snow Petrels show a tendency to mate assortatively by size morph, but the occurrence of mixed pairs producing viable young reveals that reproductive isolation between the two size morphs is incomplete. The degree of isolation depends on breeding locality. A given area can harbor (1) only small birds, (2) only large birds, (3) colonies of small birds close to colonies of large ones, or (4) mixed pairs, the percentage of which varies from one locality to another. Data from a 34-year demographic study in Terre Adelie, Antarctica, showed that mate and nest fidelity were very high and that pairs involving mates of the same size morph and mixed pairs had similar fecundity. Despite its heterogeneity, the breeding habitat of snow petrels was relatively predictable. The primary requirement for breeding in Snow Petrels is a nest that is not filled with ice. Ice repeatedly made some nests unsuitable for breeding. When Antarctic ice and snow are prevalent in bad years for Snow Petrel breeding, ice may obstruct more than 40% of nests, causing many nesting failures. Obtaining a nest that is not frozen is therefore the primary requirement for breeding. Strong competition for nests may explain high fidelity rates and, combined with the absence of reproductive costs in mixed pairs, may have promoted decreased choosiness during mate choice, preventing total reproductive isolation between the two morphs. (Barbraud and Jouventin 1998; Jouventin and Bried 2001)

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Molecular Biology and Genetics

Molecular Biology

Barcode data: Pagodroma nivea

The following is a representative barcode sequence, the centroid of all available sequences for this species.


No available public DNA sequences.

Download FASTA File
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Statistics of barcoding coverage: Pagodroma nivea

Barcode of Life Data Systems (BOLDS) Stats
Public Records: 1
Specimens with Barcodes: 10
Species With Barcodes: 1
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Conservation

Conservation Status

IUCN Red List Assessment


Red List Category
LC
Least Concern

Red List Criteria

Version
3.1

Year Assessed
2012

Assessor/s
BirdLife International

Reviewer/s
Butchart, S. & Symes, A.

Contributor/s

Justification
This species has an extremely large range, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). The population trend appears to be stable, and hence the species does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
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The Snow Petrel is not globally threatened. Despite habitat restriction, it is apparently abundant, with a total population of perhaps several million individuals. Overall numbers appear to be stable and possibly slightly increasing. There are an estimated 2,000,000 birds at colonies around the Ross Sea. (Carboneras 1992) However, given the strong dependence of Snow Petrels on sea-ice, Jenouvrier et al. (2005) predict that Snow Petrel populations will be negatively affected by reduced sea-ice in the context of regional warming, although the impact of changes in sea-ice extent may depends on its seasonality.

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Population

Population
Brooke (2004) estimated the global population to exceed 4,000,000 individuals.

Population Trend
Stable
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Relevance to Humans and Ecosystems

Risks

IUCN Red List Category

Least Concern
  • Woehler E.J. (compiler) 2006. Species list prepared for SCAR/IUCN/BirdLife International Workshop on Antarctic Regional Seabird Populations, March 2005, Cambridge, UK.
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Wikipedia

Snow petrel

The snow petrel is the only member of the genus Pagodroma. It is one of only three birds that breed exclusively in Antarctica and has been seen at the South Pole. It has the most southerly breeding distribution of any bird.[citation needed]

Taxonomy[edit]

The snow petrel is the only member of the genus Pagodroma, and a member of the sub-family fulmarine petrels. They in turn are all members of the Procellariidae family, and the Procellariiformes order.[3] They all share certain identifying features. First, they have nasal passages that attach to the upper bill called naricorns. Although the nostrils on the albatross are on the sides of the bill. The bills of Procellariiformes are also unique in that they are split into between seven and nine horny plates. They produce a stomach oil made up of wax esters and triglycerides that is stored in the proventriculus. This can be sprayed out of their mouths as a defense against predators and as an energy rich food source for chicks and for the adults during their long flights.[4] Finally, they also have a salt gland that is situated above the nasal passage and helps desalinate their bodies, due to the high amount of ocean water that they imbibe. It excretes a high saline solution from their nose.[5]

Sub-species[edit]

There are two subspecies,

They differ in size, and the greater form has a stouter, larger beak.[citation needed]

Nomenclature[edit]

Snow petrel, Pagodroma nivea in Ross Sea

The issue of taxonomy and nomenclature for this species is complex, and represents an example of many of the unusual problems which arise out of the varied use of the terminology.

The snow petrel was first named Procellaria nivea by Georg Forster, during Captain James Cook's third voyage in 1777. As Forster's mention of the petrel was only an observation, the authority of the name fell to Gmelin, in his Systema Naturae. Incidentally, a skin was procured by Cook, who noted this in his own account (1777). It was J. R. Forster who painted a picture of it, and made measurements as well, but only the latter were published, posthumously, by M. H. K. Lichtenstein in 1844. While Gmelin was recognized as the authority for P. nivea until the early twentieth century, the evidence has allowed for Forster to be construed as such, as he had created the name. In addition, Latham (1785) had described the type, which was in the Leverian Museum, but did not invoke Forster's scientific name for it.

Charles Lucien Bonaparte, in his Conspectus Generum Avium, volume II (1857), designated two subspecific binomial terms with no further descriptions to them: Pagodroma major and Pagodroma minor. Contrary to Mathews in Novitates Zoologicae (1934), the two names do not represent alternative, new names for P. nivea, but are subspecies, as well as nomen nudum, on account of their being listed similar to how other subspecies Bonaparte listed in the Conspectus. It was also Bonaparte who created the generic name Pagodroma, in the Paris academic journal Compte Rendus.. (1856). James Francis Stephens (General Zoology, 1826) equated Pagodroma nivea in the genus Daption, Heinrich Reichenbach (Avium Systema Naturale, 1852) included it in the genus Thalassoica, and George Robert Gray (Hand-list of the Birds, 1871) included it in the genus Fulmarus.

Hermann Schlegel, in his treatise on birds in the Leiden Museum in Mus. Pay-Bas (1863), designated two forms of the snow petrel for the first time. He had believed, erroneously, that the Cook expedition specimen represented the greater snow petrel, and designated it as Pagodroma nivea, incorporating P. major (Bonaparte) as a synonym of it. He thus redundantly described Procellaria nivea minor, also extracted from Bonaparte's nomen nudum, as the lesser form. With the measurements provided by Lichtenstein taken from J. R. Forsters' manuscript, it was already clear by this time that nivea represented the lesser snow petrel.

This matter was further clarified by Gregory Mathews, who in Birds of Australia, volume 2 (1912), described the greater form as Pagodroma confusa. However, Mathews did not designate a type for this, and it was Ernst Hartert (Novitates Zoologicae, 1926) who identified P. confusa with lectotypes in the British Museum, (Tring). From that time debate has persisted as to whether the snow petrel represents one monotypic species, one species with two subspecies, or two different species. In addition, J. Prevost (Oiseaux, 1969) identified Pagodroma nivea major to the greater snow petrel, thus rendering valid the nomen nudum of Bonaparte.

In the 1850s the Rattlesnake expedition procured specimens of the snow petrel from the South Georgia/Falklands region, near South America. A German Antarctic exploring expedition, 1882–83, also obtained skins, and opinion had emerged that the petrel populations there were unique from P. nivea. What distinguished the skins were the black shafts to the remiges, or flight feathers. Heinrich Pagenstecher in 1885 proposed the binomial name for a subspecies, Pagodroma novegeorgica (Jahrbuch Wiss. Hamburg II). The publication of this name was overlooked by English-speaking naturalists, and a similar account by Karl von der Steinen (1890) which had informally dropped the name novegeorgica, was not; this later account came to represent the scientific authority for South Georgia petrels. Gregory Mathews, in his Birds, designated the type from the Rattlesnake expedition to Steinen's "name". Later adding to the confusion, he assumed that the name novegeorgica could not be used for South Georgia petrels: Steinen's use of the term was not valid in a taxonomic sense, and this same term had been reinforced by its usage within the synopses of other, previous works. Thus, he created a nomen novum for the type he had designated in Birds, as Pagodroma nivea falklandica (Bulletin of the British Orn. Club, 1926). Eventually, Hellmayr and Conover (Museum of Nat. Hist. Publications, Chicago; 1949) unraveled the matter by recognizing Pagenstecher as the authority for novegeorgica, and omitting reference to Steinen.

In the decade following the United States Exploring Expedition, Titian Ramsay Peale (1848) wrote an account of the bird and mammal specimens collected, including the description of an atypical snow petrel that was completely white—even the loral area behind the eye. The name Procellaria candida was published as an alternative synonym for the entry of Procellaria nivea. Mathews (1912) recognized Pagodroma nivea candida as a subspecies, taken from Peale's name. However, with the prevailing attitude at the time that names used in synonymy could not be used to identify forms, he later felt that P. n. candida could not be used and then amended this by creating the name Pagodroma nivea pealei. (Bulletin of the British Orn. Club, 1928). Mathews also described the subspecies Pagodroma nivea alba (Bulletin of the British Orn. Club, 1928) for the type he designated in his book, Birds of Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands (1928); the latter had also included information on the avifauna of the Australasian quadrant of Antarctica.

In Du Cane Godman's, (Monograph of the Petrels, fasc. 4, 1909), it was figured in an illustration by John Gerrard Keulemans (pl. 73).

Etymology[edit]

The word petrel is derived from Peter the Apostle and the story of his walking on water. This is in reference to the petrel's habit of appearing to run on the water to take off.[7] Also, Pagodroma can be broken down as follows, pagos is Greek for "ice" and dromos for "a running course". Nivea is derived from Latin adjective niveus, -a, -um meaning "snowy". The snow reference is probably meant for its white color.[7]

Description[edit]

The snow petrel, Pagodroma nivea, is a small, pure white fulmarine petrel with black underdown, coal-black eyes, small black bill and bluish gray feet.[8] Body length is 36–41 cm (14–16 in) and the wingspan is 76–79 cm (30–31 in). Flight is more fluttering than most petrels. They are known to live 14 to 20 years.[citation needed]

Behavior[edit]

Snow petrels are almost entirely restricted to cold Antarctic waters. Flocks are characteristically seen sitting on icebergs.

Breeding[edit]

Breeding occurs in colonies on the Antarctic Peninsula, and various Antarctic islands.[6] Nesting is colonial in small to large colonies on cliffs, usually near the sea, but also inland. Some birds remain at the colony all year, but the main influx at colonies is from the mid-September until early November. Nests are simple pebble-lined scrapes usually in a deep rock crevices with overhanging protection. One white egg is laid between late November and mid-December. The egg is incubated for 41 to 49 days and the chick is brooded for 8 days. They fledge 7 weeks later in late February to mid-May. Colonies are also the sites of cleaning areas where snow petrels, far from the sea, bathe in snow.[citation needed]

Snow petrel partners are faithful for life (around 20 years).

Feeding[edit]

Snow petrels feed mainly on fish, some cephalopods, mollusks and krill as well as carrion. During the winter they disperse to the pack ice, ice floes and the open sea. Flocks are characteristically seen sitting on icebergs. Only very rarely are they observed north of the pack ice[clarification needed].

Conservation[edit]

The snow petrel has an occurrence range of 35,900,000 km2 (13,861,067 sq mi), and an estimated population of 4 million adult birds. Based on these numbers the IUCN has classified this bird as least concern.[9]

Footnotes[edit]

  1. ^ BirdLife International (2012). "Pagodroma nivea". IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2013.2. International Union for Conservation of Nature. Retrieved 26 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Brands, S. (2008)
  3. ^ Tree of Life (27 Jun 2008)
  4. ^ Double, M. C. (2003)
  5. ^ Ehrlich, Paul R. (1988)
  6. ^ a b c Clements, James (2007)
  7. ^ a b Gotch, A. T. (1995)
  8. ^ ZipCode Zoo (19 Jun 2009)
  9. ^ BirdLife International (2009)

References[edit]

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