Heard Island is the breeding place for 15 species of flying birds (in addition to the four species of penguins). A further 28 species are recorded as non-breeding visitors or from at-sea surveys.
Individuals of some species are present all year round on the island while others, such as Antarctic terns, migrate northward to avoid the harsh Heard Island winter.
Heard Island and the McDonald Islands are free from introduced predators and provide crucial breeding habitat in the middle of the vast Southern Ocean for a range of birds. The surrounding waters are important feeding areas for birds, and some scavenging species also derive sustenance from their co-habitants on the islands.
The seabirds at Heard Island have received less attention than those on other subantarctic islands due largely to island's isolation and the consequent low number of research visits.
Early studies in the 1940s and 1950s established valuable baselines on the distributions and abundances of seabirds breeding at Heard Island. Changes in populations are now evident and some evidence exists that climate change is a contributing factor. As more ice-free ground becomes available with the retreating glaciers, seabirds are occupying these new areas.
Species found at Heard Island
The flying birds that breed at Heard Island comprise:
- three species of albatross (wandering albatross, black-browed albatross and light-mantled sooty albatross)
- seven species of petrel (southern giant petrel, Cape petrel, Antarctic petrel, Wilson's storm petrel, common diving petrel and South Georgian diving petrels and fulmar prions)
- kelp gulls, Antarctic terns and subantarctic skuas
- the endemic Heard Island sheathbill and the Heard Island cormorant.
Of the breeding species, three are listed Threatened Species under Australian Federal legislation:
- Endangered – Southern Giant Petrel
- Vulnerable – wandering albatross and Heard Island cormorant).
Four species also have an IUCN conservation status of Vulnerable: macaroni and rockhopper penguins, wandering albatross and southern giant petrels.
A Recovery Plan has been completed for Albatrosses and Giant Petrels, which calls for ongoing population monitoring of the species found at HIMI. There is also an Action Plan for Australian Birds, and a draft Recovery Plan for 10 Species of Seabirds, each of which includes some of the HIMI species.
The Protection page in the Nature section has a table showing the conservation status of each of the HIMI bird species.