Hope for a Secretive Seabird: New ABC-Supported Reserve Provides Habitat for the Markham's Storm-Petrel

A community reserve in Chile will protect the largest-known colony of the Markham’s Storm-Petrel from encroaching development.
Markham's Storm-Petrels are usually seen out at sea off of the coast of Peru and Chile, but their secretive inland nest sites eluded researchers for years, hindering conservation efforts. Photo by Pete Morris.

American Bird Conservancy (ABC) and Chilean conservation organization Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC) are celebrating an important win for a secretive seabird this month. One of the biggest breeding colonies of the Markham's Storm-Petrel is now protected by a community reserve, thanks to years of effort by ROC and financial support from ABC. It is the first-ever reserve set up to protect a breeding site of this species. 

“This is something we are very happy about, materializing something that we have been promoting for some years,” said Ivo Tejeda, the Executive Director of ROC. 

Red de Observadores de Aves y Vida Silvestre de Chile (ROC) field team inspecting Markham's Storm-petrel nest. Photo courtesy of ROC.

The new community reserve, located in northern Chile, encompasses more than 1,600 acres (656 hectares) of land that supports a 20,000-pair Markham's Storm-Petrel colony known as Pampa Chaca. Previously, the colony was on public land, where it was at risk from mining and energy projects, as well as military activities. Now, the government has transferred the land to ROC through a five-year concession to manage it specifically for conservation purposes.

This win is thanks to years of hard work by ROC, supported by ABC since 2016. Until recently, researchers knew very little about the breeding habits of this small seabird due to its secretive breeding habits. Like several other storm-petrels seen off the coast of Peru and Chile, the species prefers to nest in the Atacama Desert. Markham's Storm-Petrels in particular prefer to nest under saltpeter deposits more than 10 miles inland, in a landscape so barren it resembles the surface of Mars. 

Nesting in the inhospitable desert has been a way for the birds to raise their young without fear of predators, but it has also made conservation a challenge. For decades, scientists simply couldn't locate the colonies out in the desert, resulting in storm-petrels being listed as “Data Deficient” on the IUCN Red List. This has made it harder for conservationists to advocate for reserves and take conservation actions.

ROC has worked diligently to locate storm-petrel colonies, scouring miles of desert between 2013 and 2017 to get a comprehensive idea of the species' nesting grounds. In 2019, the team released a paper announcing newly discovered Markham's Petrel breeding site locations, including the large colony at Pampa Chaca. 

The population estimates stemming from this work enabled scientists to change the Markham Storm-Petrel's IUCN Red List status to “Near Threatened” — an important development that makes it easier to create conservation-focused reserves. With financial support from ABC, ROC worked with the Chilean government to do just that. 

Now that the Pampa Chaca reserve has been established, ROC plans to continue working with ABC to implement monitoring and research programs at the site, as well as environmental education initiatives to engage the nearby community. ROC will also continue working with the Chilean government to establish more seabird reserves; a 495-acre (200 hectare) reserve to conserve an Endangered Peruvian Tern colony will become official in the coming weeks. 


American Bird Conservancy is a nonprofit organization dedicated to conserving wild birds and their habitats throughout the Americas. With an emphasis on achieving results and working in partnership, we take on the greatest problems facing birds today, innovating and building on rapid advancements in science to halt extinctions, protect habitats, eliminate threats, and build capacity for bird conservation. Find us on abcbirds.orgFacebookInstagram, and X/Twitter (@ABCbirds).

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