New England Seabirds
Photo by Jim Wallius
All photos on this page remain the
property of the photographer.
This web site is dedicated
to Wilson's Storm-petrel. This is because a trip to Stellwagen Bank
or almost any other canyon or bank in our area will see
thousands of this delightful little bird which is vacationing in
our northern seas. Unlike other Storm-petrels it is a ship
follower and a scavenger.
The author has traveled to Antarctica where the bird
breeds. At Brown Bluff on the Antarctic Peninsula a few birds were seen flying
to and from the cliffs overhead. At sea we frequently saw an individual flying
over the water. However nothing comes close to the thousands of these little
birds swarming around the whale watching boats on Stellwagen Bank
in the summer. Don't miss this wonderful show.
Early field guides
including the one from which the signature graphic of this web page was taken
show Wilson's Storm-petrel with yellow webbing between the toes. This
characteristic is almost never observed in the field without having the bird in
hand. Modern field guides do not usually show this characteristic as it is not
really a field mark.
But look at
what Arthur H. Kopelman president and sponsor of the CRESLI
pelagics captured in this awesome photograph of a
Wilson's Storm-petrel clearly displaying yellow webs.
Veatch's Canyon, June 6, 2006
One of the
advantages of our area is that many birders and many
photographers are getting out there. Thanks for sharing.
||From the July 19,2008 BBC Pelagic to the
Continental Shelf edge, this great photo of Wilson's
Storm-petrels by Scott Spangenberg The bird on the
left has its feet closed as usual, but the bird on the
right is caught with both feet open giving us a clear
look at the yellow web. Nice photo Scott.
When To See
Look for this bird from June
to October on Stellwagen Bank and even in the harbor in summer. The highest numbers are seen in July and early August. The bird is
best observed on very calm seas when you can see it skipping across the water
and picking up bits of food on the wing.
Identification - Dark with white rump
The first Storm-petrel you are likely to see in New
England waters is the Wilson's Storm-petrel or WSP. Your
identification problem will be to separate it from the three
other dark with white rump Storm-petrels possible in our
Separating New England Storm-petrels on the introductory
In this awesome photograph taken by
Scott Spangenberg you can see the primary field marks of the
Notice first the complete white tail
band. The upper wings have light crescent shaped bands
that do not reach the
leading edge of the wing (2). When flying the long
legs trail behind the tail.(1).
Notice also the straight trailing edge of the wings in calm
Ian Davis captured this view of Wilson's Storm-petrel
which shows the underside as it banks toward the boat.
Notice that the wings are dark underneath and that the white
rump wraps on either side of the tail. Legs extend
Photographed on the BBC 2007 June 30 pelagic. The close
approach of this Storm-petrel and the thousands that swarm
in our waters makes photographs like this possible.
Thanks for sharing.
Breeds in the southern
hemisphere and migrates to the north Atlantic in our
summer to feed on copepods and small crustaceans
which it picks from the surface of the water on the
wing as you can see in this photograph by Jim Wallius.
Feeds over the
continental shelf. Follows ships and whales. Attracted to chum.
Known to feed on oil from carcases. About 20 birds
were observed feeding near the carcas of a Right Whale by the Newburyport Whale
Watch just outside the mouth of the Merrimack River. See
Whales Always Lose.
The most obvious Storm-petrel behavior is pattering their feet along the surface of
the water when feeding. This is best observed on a calm
Observe the angle of the wings when pattering.
Wilson's Storm-petrel, the wings are from the horizontal to a
shallow V shape as seen in Chris Ciccone's photograph.
Usually found in groups either resting on the ocean or
||Here a Wilson's Storm-petrel patters on the ocean surface
with wings almost horizontal.
Leonard Medlock on the August 08 BBC Extreme Pelagic.
The Right Storm-petrel To
|Glen Tepke captured this example of Wilson's Storm-petrel
pattering on the water. Again notice the angle of the wings
above the horizontal. The white rump patch wraps around the
Wilson's is the Storm-petrel to watch as it readily approaches
boats and can often be observed within 3 feet of the boat. It is not easy to
photograph as it is small and quick. Follows ships and
On the first
pelagic trip to Monterey Bay in California, I was looking
forward to identifying several new Storm-petrels. The
first flock spotted was far from the boat almost to the horizon.
I decided to wait for a closer flock. But the next flock
was far away as was the following flock and they didn't seem to
respond to the boat's chumming. Other storm-petrels are
not boat followers. I had to work at distant
storm-petrels. That's when I came to appreciate our
wonderful little birdwatcher friendly Wilson's Storm-petrel.
Two subspecies "O.o.oceanicus breeds in South Georgia,
Crozets, Kerguelen, Falklands, Tierra del Fuego, islands off Cape Horn , and
perhaps also at Peter, Balleny and Bouvet Islands. O.o. exasperatus
South Shetlands, South Sandwich , and most if not all suitable sections of
Antarctic coastline." Harrison 1983 (2)
In the Antarctic Peninsula nests
in cavities in glacial rubble, scree, and also in tunnels excavated by the
birds under boulders. Usually enters and leaves the nest site at night. One egg
per nest. Both parents incubate the egg and feed the chick.
and chicks preyed upon by Skuas. (11). An even bigger danger is that the adult,
egg, or chick become trapped in the burrow by a heavy snow storm. Researchers
in Antarctica found mummified remains in burrows.
Does Wilson's Storm-petrel dive? I have seen
thousands of Wilsons and never saw a single bird dive under the water. Parmelee
(10) descrbes an incident of Wilson's Storm-petrel "submerging to grasp rising
oil droplets before the droplets could float to the surface and burst."