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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones


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Storm-petrels Index

Wilson's Storm-petrel

Leach's Storm-petrel

Band-rumped Storm-petrel

White-faced Storm-petrel

European Storm-petrel

 Separating New England Storm-petrels

Wilson's Storm-petrel feeding on suet chum.  Notice the yellow web between toes on right leg. Scott Spangenberg

Order Procellariformes - Tube-nose Seabirds  Family: Oceantidae Storm-petrels
There are at least 20 species of Storm-petrels, four of which have been identified in our waters and a fifth we are still looking for. They belong to 4 of the 8 genera of the family Oceantidae.

Genus Oceanites
Southern hemisphere breeders. The genus contains two species both with yellow feet. Wilson's Storm-petrel belongs to this group and is the only one found in our waters. Elliot's Storm-petrel is found off the Pacific coast of South America.

Genus Pelagodroma
The only member of this genus is the White-faced Storm-petrel, a bird that earns a high rank in the list of birds most wanted by North American bird listers. In recent years at least 50% of the August BBC overnight trips to the continental shelf edge south of Cape Cod have seen more than 1 of these birds. One trip had 28 birds.This success has been due to better trip planning and spending more time in the warm cores of Gulf Stream waters that wander up to Cape Cod before heading on to Europe.

Genus Oceanodroma
Nine or ten species most of which breed in the Northern Hemisphere. Only Leach's Storm-petrel is regular in New England waters and is the only seabird known to breed in New England. Band-rumped Storm-petrel is a warm water bird seen off the coast of North Carolina and on Continental Shelf Edge trips that reach the warm water eddies of the Gulf Stream.

Genus Hydrobates
The European Storm-petrel belongs to this group. Not reported on recent trips, but birders should be looking for it. It will propably be identified or at least the identification confirmed from a photograph.

Why The Name Storm-petrel
t is generally accepted that the name petrel refers to St. Peter because some Storm-petrels appear to walk on the water when feeding as seen in the photograph above. This behavior is best observed on very calm seas. And Storm-petrel because the early sailors often saw these little birds just before a storm.

Mother Carey's Chickens
Mother Carey's Chickens is an alternate sailors name for storm-petrels. So who is Mother Carey? Mother Carey is a corruption of Mater Cara, one of the epithets of Maria, the mother of Christ, used by the Spanish and Portuguese sailors who were the first westerners in the southern seas.

Identification Challenge
Birders introduced to pelagic birding in our area may be lulled into taking the Storm-petrels for granted since we enjoy an abundance of Wilson's Storm-petrels all summer long with thousands sometimes seen close to shore. Wilson's is the "Storm-petrel to watch" because it readily approaches ships and is attracted by chum. When you are ready to add other Storm-petrel species to your life list, you quickly learn that in general Storm-petrels are difficult to identify and even harder to photograph. Digital photography and the increase in pelagic birding trips is turning this around. Expect changes.

For help with identifying the Storm-petrels you are likely to see in New England waters see the essay Separating New England Storm-petrels by Emmalee Tarry.

Seabirds | Storm-petrels  |  Wilson's SP |  Leach's SP  | Band- rumped SP  | White-faced SP  |  European SP  | Separating | Top of Page     Comments to webmaster

Clements, James F. (2006) The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World Cornell University Press Ithaca, New York

Harrison, Peter (1983) Seabirds an identification guide Houghton Mifflin Company; Boston

Sibley, David (2000) The Sibley Guide to Birds Alfred A. Knopf, New York.