Cook's petrel

During Cook’s first voyage specimens probably of this petrel were shot off the East Cape and off the West Coast off the North Island. It was next collected by Dieffenbach about 1840 in New Zealand and was described by Gray in the second volume of Dieffenbach’s Travels. Its breeding places were discovered by Reischek on Little Barrier Island in 1882, and by Stead on Codfish Island, off Stewart Island, in 1935.

Cook’s petrel breeds on Little Barrier, Great Barrier and Codfish Islands from October through May when it migrates to the eastern Pacific from California to Chile.

Maori collected the young Titi for food and esteemed the flesh of this species above that of other sea birds. Long distances were traversed to the breeding grounds which were carefully preserved. A method commonly used by Maori for taking Titi was to light fires to attract them when on their way to their breeding places and to spread nets on hilltops in line of flight.

Buller has this to say: “this petrel seems to be generally distributed around our coasts, at any rate to the north of Cook's Strait. It is diurnal in its habits, and on a fine sunny afternoon in April, while lying off the port of Napier, a score or more of them passed our weather-bow, displaying the contrasts of their plumage, and looking like huge moths fluttering over the troubled waters. The dark wings are conspicuous against the grey and white plumage of the body, and make it easy to distinguish this bird on the wing from all the other Petrels of similar size. They fly low, sometimes skimming the water, with their wings aslant, and appear generally to be moving in a scattered community. I have observed it in the Hauraki Gulf sailing gracefully at a convenient distance from the steamer. Once I observed it dip into the water, touching the surface first with its feet and resting for a few moments before it took wing again. It was perhaps picking up something from the sea, but I was not near enough to observe this.

“Reischek met with it on the Little Barrier, chiefly at the northern extremity of the island, and once on the Larger Chicken; but it was a comparatively rare bird, even in the former place, and during several months' sojourn he collected altogether about a dozen specimens. Of these he opened seven, and found that the stomachs contained nothing but seeds and small seaweed, without any of the oily matter so abundant in the stomachs of other Petrels.

“It deposits its single egg at the end of a burrow from three to eight feet long, very tortuous and entirely dug out by the birds themselves. At the extremity of this burrow there are invariably two chambers, one beyond the other, and in the further one usually the bird deposits her egg. Up to this time the male and female share the same compartment, but the male now withdraws himself, and for the rest of the breeding-season occupies another hole at some little distance from the nest. The burrows are generally on sloping ground, and, owing to their depth and extent, involved often two hours' digging to get out the occupants.

“And here I may record a very wonderful fact in natural history, an excellent illustration of which by a local taxidermist attracted much attention at the Colonial and Indian Exhibition in 1886. On some of the islands in the Hauraki Gulf, and on several groups of rocky islets off the New–Zealand coast, there exists a very remarkable lizard (tuatara), which has long since disappeared from the mainland. This is the tuatara of the Maoris and Sphenodon of naturalists. But this is the point of interest to us at present: wherever the tuatara and burrowing Petrel co–exist, there appears to be a perfect understanding between them; they share the same underground habitation and respect each other's rights to the utmost. On the Chickens Mr. Reischek found the tuatara very abundant, and (I grieve to add) collected for the market some thirty or forty specimens, many of them of very large size. He assures me that in every instance he found the Petrel (sometimes Æstrelata cookii, sometimes Puffinus assimilis) and a lizard (tuatara) occupying one and the same burrow. Often the terminal chamber had, as it were, two compartments, facing each other, one of which was occupied by the bird, the other by the lizard (tuatara); but generally the two were living “cheek by jowl.” Whether the bird was sitting on its single egg or had hatched out its callow young, it was never without its attendant lizard, keeping watch over the Petrel‘s nest as the Hesperides were wont of old to guard the golden apples which Gaia gave to the lady Hêrê. Captain Mair tells me that he has observed exactly the same state of things on the island of Karewa, in the Bay of Plenty, where both tuataras and Petrels are abundant; and his brother, Major Mair, sends me a similar report from the Rurima Rocks lying adjacent thereto. But here comes the curious part of the story. Mr. Reischek affirms positively that the lizard (tuatara) assumes the guardianship of the cave, and actively defends the nest against any invasion from without. Under ordinary circumstances the tuatara, in the wild state, does its best to escape, but here, as Mr. Reischek declares, whenever he attempted to meddle with the bird on the nest the lizard (tuatara) would immediately come to the rescue, attacking his hands and fingers with exceeding ferocity and biting fiercely. So real and constant was this mode of defence that he had at length to make it a rule to capture and remove this “dragonette” before attempting to handle the egg or young bird on the nest.”

Note: the tuatara is, of course, not a lizard.

— Narena Olliver — , Greytown, 2009.

Cook's petrel
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Oestralata cooki, titi, blue footed petrel.

Description:  — 

Endemic bird

29 cm, 200g; forehead, cheeks and underparts white, crown and upperparts pale grey with dark M across wings, bill long and black, legs and feet blue with yellowish base of webs.

Where to find:  — 

During the summer breeding season, they range off the coast from East cape to Cook Strait and east of Foveaux Strait.

Credit for the photograph: — 

Illustration description: — 


Godman, Frederick du Cane, Monograph of the Petrels, 1907–1910.

Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840–48.

Reference(s): — 


Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of NZ., 1888.

Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Oliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Sunday, 18 May, 2014; ver2009v1


©  2005    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.