The birds of the southern Coral Sea including observations by HMS Herald in 1858-60

W. R P Bourne*, A. C. F. David, I. A W McAllan

*Corresponding author for this work

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Abstract

The log of HMS Herald when surveying reefs in the southern Coral Sea in 1858-60 shows that the little-known islands in this area were an important site for whales, turtles and seabirds (possibly including the Herald Petrel, Pterodroma (arminjoniana) heraldica, named after the ship) before they were devastated by whalers and guano-digging soon afterwards. This information is compared with more recent observations. While the slow-breeding, surface-nesting Herald Petrels and most of the Red-tailed Tropicbirds, Phaethon rubricauda, have not been found again, the vegetation and other more numerous bird populations appear to have largely recovered. While some birds may breed more or less continuously, there appears to be a peak for both birds and turtles in the spring in the south of the area and also in the autumn for the birds farther north, possibly due to the northward movement and increase in strength of the southeast trade wind in the winter. Individual birds' apparently erratic breeding behaviour may help them to avoid predators and parasites.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)237-263
Number of pages27
JournalAtoll Research Bulletin
Issue number541
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2005

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Keywords

  • coral reef ecology
  • birds
  • Pacific Ocean
  • Coral Sea Islands

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