The white-chinned petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis) is an abundat, widespread petrel breeding in tussock grassland at sub-Antarctic islands. Over the last decade it has been killed in large numbers in temperate and sub-tropical longline fisheries. However, no data are available on the global population status. We assessed the status of white-chinned petrels at Bird Island, South Georgia by comparing the distributioin and density of occupied burrows in 1981 and 1998. In both surveys white-chinned petrel burrows occurred in one-quarter of the 460–47736-m2 quadrats surveyed. The total number of burrows in each quadrat was consistent between each survey but we estimate an overall decrease of 28% in those occupied (with considerable variation between sites). Concurrent data on breeding frequency and success showed that white-chinned petrels are essentially annual breeders at Bird Island; breeding success was consistent at around 44%. Significant factors determining densities of occupied burrows were crown height and percent tussock cover (accounting for 77% of variance). The former has decreased significantly, the latter increased significantly between 1981 and 1998 but there was no relationship between white-chinned petrel occupancy rate and habitat modification due to the presence of fur seals (Arctocephalus gazella). This suggests that any population decline is due to factors operating away from the breeding colony, such as those attributed to fishing.