Life of Py

Department of Conservation —  29/04/2020

A Pycroft’s Petrels story…

My first baby photo.
📷: Vonny Sprey

By Vonny Sprey, resident DOC ranger on Motuora Island

In Early Days

Hi! I’m Py and this is my story. It’s short as have only been around since early December 2019, and I was a bit of an egg back then! My hatch date was during the last week of January 2020, so that makes me an Aquarius, which is a good sign for an ocean dwelling seabird.

I was laid and hatched right here on Motuora Island in the Hauraki Gulf Marine Park/Ko te Pātaka kai o Tīkapa Moana. A homebirth at burrow number 58, Pohutukawa Bay. Dad said that it’s a new development housing site since 2013, currently with 101 burrows.

Mum and Dad were re-housed here as chicks from Red Mercury Island in 2013 as part of a new colony initiative to protect our species. This is because there aren’t that many of us (Pycroft’s Petrels) and it is thought that we only breed on small offshore islands in New Zealand. A whopping 75% of us come from Red Mercury Island!

In the first wee while Mum or Dad were at home, but never together. Dad said it was because I ate too much and they needed to go further and further offshore to find fish and small squid for me. Especially as humans keep taking all the food and not leaving stuff on the shelf for everyone else.

Mum thought Dad could do some DIY to make the room a bit bigger. But I think they would just bicker, so that’s ok. They bring in leaves for me to play with that smell salty and exotic.

You know that awkward stage “look”.
📷: Vonny Sprey

The Awkward Tweens

I have playmates like cockroaches and beetles and sometimes copper skinks which come to say “hi”. I know it’s not friendly behaviour, but sometimes I eat them. Mostly though, I just dream of my next meal.

Dinner is always takeaways, mainly regurgitated fish and squid slurry that Mum or Dad bring to me, an hour or so after sunset. But now that I’m a teenager I don’t get fed every second night anymore and sometimes it can take AGES between meals. Apparently, they’re off flying hundreds or even thousands of kilometres each trip. They tell me not to leave the burrow and as there are scary things out there that might eat me. Mostly I spend time preening and being grumpy when it just doesn’t turn out right.

The Talk

It’s early April and Dad comes in and stays the whole day. He mumbles, “your Mum asked me to have a word with you”.

I can’t recall the detail, but it the conversation went something like this:

DAD: “It’s time you stretched your wings and legs. It’s ok to go outside the burrow and walk and flap around a bit, just at night though.

Meet the other kids. The chick at no. 22 has been out flapping about for a few days now, though it’s a bit precocious. Between you and I, one of its parents isn’t from the 2013-2015 original settlers, and product of a fly-by hook up.

Meet the locals. But don’t take any flying advice from kiwi and keep a lookout for ruru as they ate one of our other chicks while it was walking out last year.

Practise climbing one of the big trees.”

PY: “That’s awesome Dad, thanks! But why do I need to practise climbing trees?”

DAD: “Because we climb up to get above the branches so we can launch ourselves into the air and fly away. We don’t climb back down though – we just sort of crash land through the vegetation and hope we don’t end up with sticks up our —-. I suggest you aim for the soft leafy stuff.

And Junior, this is your last feed. Your mum has already left and I won’t be coming back and this will probably be the last time I see you. You need to slim down some and build up those muscles so you can leave home as well.”

PY: “But how do I fly, and where do I go, and where is the supermarket?”

DAD: “You will just know. Once you launch yourself into the air, flap like crazy. I found it helped to leave on a day with some sea breeze around. Just circle around and head North. I believe the phrase is “may the force be with you”. The sea is the supermarket, it is very big and all around you.You’ll be out at sea for around 2-3 years, but remember that this is your home and when the time comes and the urge takes you, come back here with the love of your life to make your Mum and I grandparents.“

Last day with parent and last feed at home EVER!
📷: Vonny Sprey

Well, that left me wishing I had paid more attention during home-schooling classes. Like what is a tree, what is the sea, and where is the North Pacific Ocean, and what shelf do I find the squid and fish on…? Oh yes, hang on, I recall it was “over deep water and beyond the continental shelf.” HEY WAIT COME BACK I PROMISE I WILL LISTEN THIS TIME…..

First venture out through the door tube to the big wide world.
📷: Vonny Sprey
Met the kiwi. It was nice, but a bit too probing.
📷: Vonny Sprey

15 responses to Life of Py


    Brillant story line mate please keep up the good work and thanks for sharing the “The life of Py” with everyone.


    Vonny your passion in your work comes out in this very informative child like story. I love it. You definitely should put this in a children’s book and even for us adults that don’t know much above the evolving life of a Py it is very useful. What a cute little fluffy guy. Looking forward to seeing you on the island sometime soon.


    Thoroughly enjoyed your story Vonnie.You should write a book.Sally Ashley.

    Joylene Steicke 30/04/2020 at 2:54 pm

    Vonny, that story was sooo lovely to read, it must be made into a book.
    Sharing with my friends. Brings back a lot of memories from the 1990’s
    when I worked as an Honorary Ranger in Otago doing trapping ect. for
    the Yellow Eyed Penguins. Am an Aussie, spent 15 years in NZ, just
    love keeping up with what is happening over there on this site.

    Erica Battaerd 29/04/2020 at 10:33 pm

    I’m a friend of Karins and I loved your story, kept myself and my husband completely engrossed. As Karin said, it has the makings of a great children’s book too. It was extra special as I helped Karin one weekend on the island doing a count of the number of Pycrofts that came in over a couple of nights.


    Awesome account. Really captured the spirit of the bird. Most excellent x

    Mary-Ann Rowland 29/04/2020 at 5:04 pm

    Beautifully written Vonny. Great story. You’re in the perfect place for a lockdown.


    Love the story. Vonny, you are such a gifted writer. Such a pity I “missed” my last monitoring trip… oh well…there is always next season… with hopefully even more chicks 🙂 Hope you are doing well in your feathered friends bubble. Love, Karin

    Jane Wheeler 29/04/2020 at 2:18 pm

    Such a great story – and what a gripping read!

    Sonia Botica 29/04/2020 at 11:52 am

    You should take up writing for a living Vonnie. Just a wonderful story. I have forwarded it on to my grandson aged 7 to read as well as several of my friends who I know will love it as much as I do. Thank you for all your efforts to help these birds survive in what is an increasingly hostile environment.

    Donna Lenhart 29/04/2020 at 11:48 am

    Thanks! A nice story from a petrel’s point of view. I share Sarah’s thought – it is scary to think the chick is on its own, suddenly, with no knowledge or training, just “you’re on your own now”. Wow.
    Beautiful birds.


    Great story
    Love the point of view!
    Great idea!


    Great little story. We’re hoping to one day be able to tell similar ones from our work at Boundary Stream where DOC, iwi and a bunch of volunteers are trying to establish breeding colonies of Cooks and mottled petrels.

    Sarah Bennett 29/04/2020 at 10:16 am

    This is so cute, and quite frightening. I thought it was a big deal to leave home, but this is EPIC! Thanks for sharing DOC. The plight of our seabirds always seems so vary precarious…

      Robyne Hosking 29/04/2020 at 11:01 am

      Thank you Doc for a fantastic story. Shared it with my nephews.