Kiritimati: Motu Tapu – Shearwaters & Petrels

Motu Tapu islet is nesting grounds for several rare bird species. There is the rare and endangered Phoenix petrel (Pterodroma alba), limited to only a few remote Pacific islands – a medium-sized seabird with a wingspan of around 80-90 cm (31-35 in), with dark plumage on their upperparts, including their wings and back, and white underparts. These petrel dig quite large burrows in the sandy soil and lay a single egg inside, staying in the burrow during the daytime and flying out to sea to feed at night. The other two species were shearwaters – more common Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna pacifica) and a much rarer Christmas Shearwater(Puffinus nativitatis) (the later actually named after the Kiritimati aka Christmas Island – the only place in the world where it breeds! Both are nocturnal foragers, and mostly stay in the burrows during the day. As we walked around the Motu Tapu, we were ultra careful not to step in the burrow. And we got lucky to see couple puffy babies. Interestingly, shearwaters are often known as “muttonbirds”, for the fact that they were hunted and eaten for meat, with the strong taste and fattiness of these birds’ meat was likened to mutton.