Raoul Island Diaries: A black-winged petrel named Laughing Jack becomes a favourite on Raoul Island

DOC on Raoul Island —  14/04/2011

Raoul Island is one of the Kermadec Islands, about 1,000km north-east of New Zealand in the South Pacific Ocean. DOC has a small team of rangers and volunteers who live on the island in relative solitude. Their main focus is controlling weeds on the island, maintaining infrastructure such as buildings, roads and tracks, and carrying out work for Met Service and GNS.

Since the island is so remote, we get these diary entries from the team and post them up on their behalf. Today’s diary is by volunteer, Maree Roberts.

Is Laughing Jack our favourite bird…?

Baby Jack, a Black-winged petrel chick, on the nest

It is not surprising that in being surrounded by birds, one or two would become favourites, or at least well-known to us. This is so of Laughing Jack, a Black-winged petrel that has built its nest on a nearby track.

This track, the Orange Grove Track, is an access route to the main track across the island and to many of our weeding plots. We therefore walk past Laughing Jack’s nest on a nearly daily basis.

Now Laughing Jack is not one for spending a lot of time on a fancy nest; this nest is more like a hollowed out groove in the edge of the track. So once the egg was laid and Laughing Jack was sitting on it, he was perched on the edge of his nest fully visible to us.

One of the coolest things that I have learnt on Raoul is that you can literally call black-winged petrels to you through a very strange and funny way. Basically you make a “wo wo wo” sound by patting your mouth with your hand. This has them swooping down all around you and often landing beside you, or if you are lucky, even on you.

So each time we would walk past Laughing Jack’s nest we would make this sound and Laughing Jack being a friendly kind of bird would answer back loud and clear. Laughing Jack became so used to us that just walking by and making the noise set him off. And it seemed to us that Laughing Jack sounded just like he was laughing his head off at how silly we sounded – hence the name ‘Laughing Jack’.

Red-tailed tropicbird on a nest

We have had many a laugh with Laughing Jack over the last month as he sat on the nest. And then, as these things go, baby Jack appeared. Black-winged petrel chicks are the cutest balls of fluff you ever saw and we were lucky to be able to see this one clearly due to the meagre nature of Laughing Jack’s nest.

Of course the first thing we did was try out the call and in response, in the squeakiest pitch, was the familiar laughing call. So now we get to not only watch baby Jack grow and grow, but also to say hello every time we pass and hear him laughing his fluffy head off about how silly we all sound!

… or is it the Red-tailed tropicbird?

It is quite a competition around here for which birds are our favourite and for me it has always been the beautiful Red-tailed tropicbird. When the sun is shining and you look up and see one, you can almost see right through their white wings and as for the long red tail feathers well, they are just fantastic.

Red-tailed tropicbird chick on nest

We recently got to go over to the Meyer Islands, another bonus of being on Raoul Island. These islands are literally coated in beautiful, and sometimes quite rare, seabirds.

On this trip I was privileged to get to see up close not only several tropicbirds, but their fluffy white chicks as well. This was a real highlight of my trip to Raoul and made me realise just how lucky I am to have come to stay in this bird paradise.

DOC on Raoul Island


The Raoul Island diary is written by "Raoul Islanders" - DOC staff and volunteers living and working on Raoul Island in the Kermadec Island group. DOC staff include a team leader, mechanic and rangers. Up to 10 volunteers spend approximately 5 to 6 months on the island helping DOC staff get rid of weeds.

2 responses to Raoul Island Diaries: A black-winged petrel named Laughing Jack becomes a favourite on Raoul Island


    Sorry for the slow reply – it takes a while for these messages to get relayed up to us! We are all fine up here, earthquakes are almost a daily occurrence and we get used to them – only one of us was woken by the one on Tuesday morning, it wasn’t that big a shake. Cyclone Bune last month was far worse for us, it knocked over trees and a slip knocked out the island’s spring water supply. Thanks for your concern. From the team on Raoul .

    Wayne Devine 19/04/2011 at 9:06 am

    I loved this blog & could almost imagine myself being there – having organised Raoul Expeditions by the Dept of L&S/Wildlife Service/Forest Service for a number of years. I see on Yahoo this morning that the team on Raoul has just had an offshore earthquake larger than the ChCh one. I hope everything is ok on Raoul. I’d like to hear about the team’s experience of it.