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New England Seabirds

Wilson's Storm-petrel Dave Jones


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Seabird Characteristics

Order Procellariiformes

Fulmarine petrels Northern Fulmar
Gadfly Petrels Black-capped Petrel

Order Pelecaniformes

Northern Gannet

Order Charadriiformes

Jaegers and Skuas
Pelagic Gulls
Pelagic Terms

*Taxonomy Clements (2007)

Great and Cory's Shearwaters J. Lambert

Great Shearwater (left) is a Southern Hemispher breeder.  Cory's Shearwater (right) breeds in the Northern Hemisphere. Photo John Lambert

Southern Hemisphere Breeders
Birds that breed in the southern hemisphere come north during our summer to feed. These vacationers are seen during most of the summer. Examples are: Great Shearwater, Sooty Shearwater, South Polar Skua, and Wilson's Storm-petrel. Pelagic birding is the only way to count these birds for your North American list.


Northern Hemisphere Breeders
Northern breeders visit the waters off our coast after the breeding season. These birds are more likely to be seen from August into fall. Examples are Cory's Shearwater, Leach's Storm-petrel,Red and Red-necked Phlaropes, Northern Fulmar, Jaegers, Alcids, Northern Gannet and Great Skua. Some juvenile northern breeders feed off our coast throughout the summer. This is perhaps why we see Manx Shearwaters all summer long. Seabirds are not easy to see on the breeding grounds so the best way to count these birds is a pelagic trip.

Some birds that breed in the Northern Hemisphere and migrate up the coast in spring can be seen in breeding plumage.  Red-necked Phalarope is an example and this is the  only way to see breeding plumage in our area.

Red-necked Phalaropes in migration breeding plumage Jim Besada

Red-necked Phalaropes in breeding plumage. Photographed in migration by Jim Beseda.

Habits at sea

Older books about seabirds use the term “Ship Follower” to describe the behavior of a bird that will follow in the wake of a boat that is not throwing out waste and the term “ Attends Trawlers” for a bird that will follow a boat that is cleaningfish or otherwise disposing of food waste.

Order Procellariiformes

This order contains about 93 species and growing due to splits in taxonomy resulting from DNA analysis and increased study of seabirds.

All members of order have external nostrils placed in tubes on top or sides of the upper mandible. Some have a very keen sense of smell and primarily find food by following the scent. This probably has nothing to do with the external nostrils.

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