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Phillip Island Residents Limit Artificial Lights to Aid Shearwater Chicks

Short-tailed Shearwater

Phillip Island lies just 90 minutes away from the city of Melbourne in Victoria, Australia. Despite being so near to one of Australia’s most populous urban areas, Phillip Island is an ecotourism hub which boasts an array of unique and fascinating wildlife. Perhaps the most famous Phillip Island residents are its Little Penguins. Home to the largest Little Penguin colony in the world, Phillip Island allows visitors to view these penguins up close during their nightly “Penguin Parades,” wherein visitors can watch as the Little Penguin colonies waddle up onto the beaches after a day of fishing at sea.

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Tourists may be less familiar with Phillip Island’s Short-tailed Shearwater population, but, like the Little Penguin colony, these birds depend upon the protected habitats of Phillip Island in order to survive and thrive.

Short-tailed Shearwaters are migratory seabirds. They arrive on Phillip Island in September and spend the winter nesting and incubating the single egg that each pair typically lays. In January, these eggs hatch and the young spend the late winter and early spring months maturing and preparing for the upcoming migration. In April, the adult Short-tailed Shearwaters begin their migration back to the islands off of Alaska where they spend their summers. The young chicks spend a few more weeks maturing and then follow their parents on this migration route.

Learning to fly and attempting to join the migration can be a treacherous time for young Short-tailed Shearwaters. Many rely on luck, waiting for strong enough winds to carry them into the first leg of their journey. Throughout late April and May, Short-tailed Shearwater chicks are often found on roads or residential areas throughout Phillip Island. Because they use the moon to navigate, artificial lights from homes, cars, and streets can be disorienting and can lead to Short-tailed Shearwater chicks becoming lost or injured. Because of this, residents and visitors to Phillip Island are being asked to be aware of unnecessary artificial lighting, to cut down on such lighting where possible, and to drive with caution.

The 2022/2023 breeding season has been very successful. Reportedly, as much as 80 percent of this year’s nesting attempts have resulted in a healthy chick. This is the second largest new crop of Short-tailed Shearwater chicks on Phillip Island in at least a decade. While this is obviously good news, successful breeding means little if the chicks are unable to join up with the migrating adults. For this reason, many local businesses have committed to turning out the lights and warnings are posted on the roadways to alert drivers of the likelihood of encountering lost birds. Rangers and volunteers will also be patrolling Phillip Island, searching for Short-tailed Shearwater chicks in peril and rescuing them from roads where they are especially vulnerable.

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