New England Seabirds
Why The Name Storm-petrel
It is generally
accepted that the name petrel refers to St. Peter because
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
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.
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.
There of 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
the 8 genera of the family Oceanitidae.
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 coast of South
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. Has
yellow toe webs.
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.
The European Storm-petrel belongs to this group. Not reported on
recent trips, but birders should be looking for it.