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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






White-faced Storm-petrel

Pelagodroma marina



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White-faced Storm-petrel Jeremiah Trimble

Awesome photo of an awesome bird by Jeremiah Trimble on September 2009 BBC shelf edge pelagic White-faced Storm-petrel showing the yellow webs between the toe..

Found in all three oceans. Breeds in North Atlantic on the Salvages, Cape Verde, and perhaps on the Canary Islands. In the South Atlantic on Tristan da Cunha, and Gough Island. Also in the Indian Ocean and off Australia, and New Zealand.

There are six subspecies. The two most likely to be in our area are the North Atlantic breeding subspecies.

How to See
This is a very difficult bird to add to your North American list. Your best chance for seeing this bird in North America is to take an east coast continental shelf edge trip to Hydrographers, Oceanographers or Gilbert's Canyons in late August. The secret is to get into one of the cores of warm Gulf Stream Water that drift over the continental shelf edge area. See The Continental Shelf-Edge : An Oceanographic Primer for Pelagic Birders by Mike Gooley on this web page. The Brookline Bird Club of Massachusetts has been running 2 day (one night) trips from Hyannis Port on Cape Cod which have been very successful recently. The tirp searches for the warm water cores as outlined in the article abovel. See their web page Brookline Bird Club for more information. A good reason to visit Boston in August. Warning the BBC trip usually fills quickly and may have to be cancelled or postponed depending upon sea conditions.

History of Sightings
1983 joint BBC and Bird Observer trip to Hydrographer's Canyon
1994 June CORE 3 day trip to Hydrographer's Canyon. Trip primarily for Cetaceans
2001 BBC Hydrographer's Canyon from Plymouth, MA 2 birds
2001 September FONT trip out of Barnegat Light New Jersey
2006 BBC Continental shelf edge on HelenH out of Hyannis Port 3 birds
2009 BBC Two day Continental shelf edge on Helen H out of Hyannis Port 6 birds ( following 2 Hurricanes)
2010 BBC Two day Continental shelf edge on Helen H out of Hyannis Port 22 birds (preceeding a hurricane)

This bird is never a sure thing. It has been missed on about 50% of trips to the same area. For reports on more recent sightings see E-Bird.

Bounces as it flies over the water. Reported to sometimes follow fishing boats. Neither of the two birds seen in 2001 or the three birds seen in 2006 responded to chum. The page author also saw this bird off the coast of Australia where the birds clearly favored a slick laid by the boat.

Identification- Dark with White Rump Patch
Hard to find, easy to identify. At first sight most likely to be confused with phalaropes. Phalaropes in migration are rarely seen alone while all the White-faced Storm-petrels have been single birds. Its bouncing flight over the water is most distinctive even when other Storm-petrels are in the area..

Distinctive white face and white underparts. Has light or white rump. Also yellow webs between toes not usually observed at sea, but definitely visible in Jeremiah Trimble's photo at the top of the page.

This Jeremiah Trimble photograph shows very clearly the face pattern and the long trailing legs when the bird flyies.

White-faced Storm-petrel Jeremiah Trimble

Tail shots like this one by Jeremiah Trimble are usually not valuable for identification, but this one is surely an exception.

It is another dark on top bird with a light undivided rump patch. There are light bars on the dark wing.

This bird has just hit the water in its bouncing flight. The feet are under water and not visible.

White-faced Storm-petrel Jeremiah Trimble
White-faced Storm-petrel Steve Mirick

Bouncing Feeding Flight

One of the most noticeable characteristics of this bird is the way it bounces off the water while feeding. Often described as riding a pogo stick, the bird touches the water and then bounds up, only to hit the water again like a bouncing basketball. This flight will separate it from a large flock of other Storm-petrels even at a distance.

This photo taken by Steve Mirick on the BBC August, 2001 Hydrographers Canyon trip captures the bouncing flight just after the bird bounces off the water.

White-faced Storm-petrel Steve Mirick

Three  top pictures of the White-faced Storm-petrel. All were taken about the same time one from Massachusetts and the other two from New Jersey.

Long legs trail behind the tail. Tail is square.

Trailing edge of wing is straight and the primaries and secondaries dark. Pale tips to the coverts form a light band on the upper wing.

Left :Steve Mirick 2001 BBC trip. Hydrographers Canyon from Plymouth, MA

White-faced Storm-petrel Mary ScottWhite-faced Storm-petre Mary Scott

Two photographs of the same White-faced Storm-petrel taken by Mary Scott  on the FONT trip in Sept 2001 from Barngat Light, NJ

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

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

Patterson, Brian (2002 ; Atlantic Enigma: White-faced Storm-petrel; Winging It Volume 12, Number 5- June 2000