AFTER THREE years of searching, storm petrels have been confirmed to be breeding on the Isle of May National Nature Reserve for the first time.

The small oceanic species – that breed in the UK during the summer months but spend their lives out at sea – is notoriously difficult to monitor due to its nocturnal habits.

However, after several survey efforts including playing a recording of the bird’s calls over potential nest holes, a bird was finally heard calling underground during daylight hours, when they could only be incubating or brooding a chick.

NatureScot, the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and the Isle of May Bird Observatory have suspected there may be a colony on the island since 2019, when storm petrels were first spotted displaying and calling.

UKCEH researcher Ella Benninghaus was the first individual to confirm the bird: “Since storm petrels were first detected on the Isle of May in 2019, it has been an exciting but frustrating three years. We carried out some playback surveys with no success last year, but we were determined to try again this year.

“Sure enough, as I was lying on the ground I heard the storm petrel call back to me very quietly," she continued. "It is a very exciting find and amazing to be able to prove what has been suspected for a few years.”

UKCEH's Mark Newell, added: “To confirm the presence of these mystical, magical birds 200 miles from the nearest known colony is one of the highlights of my many years on the isle.”

The vast majority of the storm petrel population can be found on remote islands, especially in the north and west of Scotland.

Reserve manager for NatureScot’s Isle of May NNR, David Steel, said: “These special seabirds come ashore under the cover of darkness and nest underground in crevices, burrows, cairns or stone-walls. They will raise a single chick before eventually departing once again. During that time their nocturnal activities – singing away in total darkness – and unique smell contribute to make these birds so fascinating and mysterious.The Isle of May National Nature Reserve is hugely significant for its breeding seabird assemblage and this exciting news adds greatly to the importance of this special place.”

Over the years, volunteers at Scotland’s oldest bird observatory on the island have been ringing non-breeding storm petrels and tracking their subsequent movements. Recoveries of ringed birds have shown links to much of the traditional range, mainly to the north and west of Scotland and Ireland.

Chair of the Isle of May Bird Observatory Trust, Alan Lauder, concluded: “Stormies breeding so far south in the North Sea might suggest other nearby colonies may have gone unnoticed, or perhaps that the feeding conditions in the North Sea are more favourable for them now, despite widespread declines in other seabird species.”