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New England Seabirds

 Wilson's Storm-petrel  Dave Jones


Storm-petrels Index
Wilson's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
European Storm-petrel
Separating NE Storm-petrels



Separating NE Storm-petrels


An Identification Guide


by Emmalee Tarry

Comments to webmaster


WSP with split white rump patch Eric Masterson

Which Storm-petrel? Photographed in New England waters by Eric Masterson? Answer mouse over picture.

Dark with White Rumps
The first Storm-petrel you will see in our waters is the Wilson's Storm-petrel and at the right time of the summer you will see thousands. The Gulf of Maine and Stellwagen Bank are probably the best places in the world to see this bird. There might just be another Storm-petrel mixed in. Can you pick it out?

Wilson's Storm-petrels or WSP are all dark underneath with white rumps and light crescent shaped bars on upper wing. The same describes three other storm-petrels we look for: Leach's, Band-rumped, and European Storm-petrel. A fifth storm-petrel the White-faced Storm-petrel is most distinct and is not included in this discussion.  See the page for White-faced Storm-petrel

Is That Bird Different ?
Size and slightly different flight characteristics will first draw your attention to a different bird among the many WSPs. Look to see if the feet are visible trailing behind the tail. If they are not your suspicions are confirmed. Stay on the bird. Please announce that you are on a small or large Storm-petrel so that others can get on the bird too. You don’t have to comit to species just that you have a different Storm-petrel.


Feet Trail Behind Tail


European Storm-petrel

Wilson's Storm-petrel

Leach's Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel

If the bird is smaller than the WSP try to see the under wing. Look for a broad, white bar indicative of a European Storm-petrel. The crescent shaped wing bars on the upper wing should be faint. Take pictures.

If the bird is larger than the WSPs it may be either Leach's or Band-rumped Storm-petrel. If you are in warm water it may be Band-rumped Storm-petrel. In cold or warm water look for the forked tail and divided white rump patch of Leach's. The boat announcer should always keep you informed of the water temperature although with experience you will learn to notice the temperature difference yourself.  Usually the water color of the warmer water is more blue while the colder water is green due to phytoplanton.

Wilson's SP compared with

Wilson's Storm-petrel ID Scott Spangenberg

1. Feet trail behind the tail,. 2 Crescent shaped light bar does not reach leading edge of wing, 3 Trailing edge of wing appears straight in calm or light winds. Scott Spangenberg photo.

Band-Rumped Storm-petrel

Band-rumped SP Jeremiah Trimble

Feet do not trail behind tail.Larger  Note angle of trailing wing in light winds. White wing band almost reached leading edge of wing. Photo by Jeremiah Trimble on 2010 BBC pelagic.

Wilson's Storm-petrel compared with

Wilson's Storm-petrel Scott Spangenverg

Scott Spangenber Wilson’s SP
Light rump patch not usually divided, tail not forked, trailing edge of wing almost straight in light or no wind., light bars on wing do not reach the leading edge of the wing, long legs extend beyond end of tail.

Leach's  Storm-petrel

Scott Surner Leach’s SP
Tail forked, light rump patch divided by dark line at least part way, light wing band reaches the leading edge of the wing.

Wilson's SP Scott Surner

Scott Surner Wilson's Storm-petrel

Light rump patch wraps around under body to the insertion of the legs. Under wing all dark.


Leach's SP 2 Jeremiah Trimble


Jeremiah Trimble Leach’s SP

Bird on right clearly shows that the light rump patch does not wrap under the body


Review - European Storm-petrelEuropean SP Steve Rogers

European SP Steve Rogers

Another dark Storm-petrel with a light rump patch. In Steve Rogers photograph on the right you can see the faint crescent wing bars. Compare with the distinct crescent wing bars of the Wilsons Storm-petrel above. On the left the photograph shows the distinct white or light bar under the wing. Remember this is a smaller bird than a Wilson’s Storm-petrel.


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

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