Rare Birds Nest on Restored Chilean Island After Decades

In La Higuera, Chile, the Island Conservation is celebrating a major milestone on Pajaros Uno Island. After decades, the rare Peruvian Diving-Petrels, also known as “yuncos,” have returned to nest on the island. These seabirds are essential to the ecosystem’s health and their rapid comeback less than a year after social attraction efforts began is a positive sign of their recovery.

The restoration project, launched by Island Conservation in August 2020 and funded by the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation and the Packard Foundation, successfully eliminated invasive predators from Pajaros Uno Island by December 2022. This milestone made the island predator-free, allowing native species to return. In November 2023, Island Conservation implemented a social attraction program using audio recordings of bird calls to lure the yuncos back, a method that had previously succeeded on a nearby island.

Pajaros Uno Island covers 70 hectares and serves as a crucial breeding ground for various seabird species in Chile. It is home to around 3,000 pairs of Peruvian Boobies, the largest population of Kelp Gulls in northern Chile with approximately 2,000 pairs, and about 600 breeding pairs of the Vulnerable Humboldt Penguin.

Prior to the restoration efforts, invasive rats threatened the seabird population by preying on eggs and chicks, disrupting the ecosystem’s nutrient cycle. Conservation Science Program Manager, Coral Wolf, emphasized the significance of seabirds in maintaining this cycle, as their guano deposits sustain nearshore reefs.

Recent monitoring visits captured the yuncos exploring the restored island through camera traps. The installation of a sound system playing bird calls on November 3 led to the first yunco being photographed by November 16, demonstrating a swift response to the restoration work. The quick attraction underscores the substantial impact of the project.

With the absence of invasive predators, two yunco couples now have a hopeful opportunity to breed, as natural burrows have already been found on the island. María José Vilches, Island Restoration Specialist at Island Conservation, expressed excitement at discovering these nesting pairs shortly after the restoration, highlighting the sense of hope for the survival of the Peruvian Diving-Petrels.

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