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Attraction of petrels to artificial lights in the Canary Islands: effects of the moon phase and age class

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The extent and intensity of artificial night lighting has increased with urban development worldwide. The resulting light pollution is responsible for mortality among many Procellariiformes species which show nocturnal activity on their breeding grounds. Here, we report light-induced mortality of Procellariiformes during a 9-year study (1998–2006) on Tenerife, the largest island of the Canary archipelago. A total of 9880 birds from nine species were found grounded, the majority being Cory’s Shearwaters Calonectris diomedea (93.4%). For this species the majority of grounded birds were fledglings (96.4%), which fall apparently while leaving their nesting colony for the first time; for the smaller species (storm-petrels) adult birds were more often grounded than fledglings. For almost all species, grounding showed a seasonal pattern linked with their breeding cycle. Certain phases of the moon influenced grounding of Cory’s Shearwater, with the extent of grounding being reduced during phases of full moon. The percentage of fledglings attracted to lights in relation to the fledglings produced annually varied between species and years (0–1.3% for the Madeiran Storm-petrel Oceanodroma castro; 41–71% for Cory’s Shearwater). Mean adult mortality rates also varied between species (from 0.4% for the European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus and the Cory’s Shearwater, to 2.3% for the Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus). Here we show that light-induced mortality rates are of concern, at least for petrels and small shearwaters. Thanks to efforts involving civil cooperation, 95% of grounded birds have been returned to the wild. To minimize the impact of artificial lights on petrels we recommend several conservation measures: continuing rescue campaigns, alteration of light signatures and reduction of light emissions during the fledging peaks. Furthermore, we recommend that a monitoring program for petrel populations be implemented, as well as further studies to assess the fate of released fledglings and continued research to address why petrels are attracted to lights.

Keywords: Atlantic Ocean; anthropogenic perturbation; light pollution; moonlight; seabirds

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: C/La Malecita s/n, Buenavista del Norte 38480, S/C de Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain

Publication date: 2009-04-01

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