New England Seabirds

This site is dedicated to the great world traveler the Wilson's Storm-petrel

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Separating New England

Wilson's Storm-petrel
Leach's Storm-petrel
Band-rumped Storm-petrel
White-faced Storm-petrel
European Storm-petrel



Pattering their feet on the surface of the ocean while feeding is characteristic of Storm-petrels. Photo by Scott Spangenberg.

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 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.

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 4 of the 8 genera of the family Oceanitidae.


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 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. Has yellow toe webs.

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.

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