The Northern Giant Petrel has a gland at the base of the bill which removes salt from the seawater and ejects it through a special tube on top of the bill. Photo: Contributed
The Northern Giant Petrel has a gland at the base of the bill which removes salt from the seawater and ejects it through a special tube on top of the bill. Photo: Contributed

Rare visitor spotted at Burnett Heads

A reader who was fishing off Burnett Heads, near the lighthouse, was surprised when a large bird swam up quite close to the boat and took a small fish that he offered.

He took a photo and sent it in and it turned out to be a Northern Giant Petrel.

This is a large seabird with a wingspan of 2 metres that normally lives in Antarctic and Sub-Antarctic waters.

However, during the winter months they will visit the east coast of Australia but it is unusual for them to come so close to the mainland preferring offshore islands.

It is the juvenile birds that venture to inshore waters when they feed on cuttlefish which die in large numbers after breeding.

Juveniles are dark brown, as in the photo, but adults have a flush of white around the face and throat.

They are scavengers that roam the oceans looking for the carcasses of dead animals such as penguins and seals but they are also a predator that will take birds, fish and squid.

They will also follow trawlers hoping to pick up some scraps.

Since they are a seabird that spends all of its life at sea, except for brief periods of breeding on islands like Macquarie, they drink seawater.

This presents the bird with the problem of how to get rid of the salt.

To do this they have a gland at the base of the bill which removes salt from the seawater and ejects it through a special tube on top of the bill (see photo inset).

Many seabirds such as Albatross, Shearwater and Petrels have developed this ability and it is why they are collectively called ‘tubenoses’.

Unfortunately the bird is listed as a threatened species due to longline fishing where they try to take the bait off the hook, get snagged and die.

A rare but welcome visitor to Bundaberg waters.

Allan Briggs is the secretary of BirdLife Capricornia, contact him with your bird questions at abriggs@irock.com.au



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