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Procellariidae - Petrels, Diving Petrels & Shearwaters

Petrel
Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea ©James Lowen Website

The Procellariidae is an enigmatic group of pelagic birds typically characterised by their tube-shaped nostrils. Most come to land only to breed; they are otherwise highly adapted to an ocean existence. Some are resident around breeding islands; others are spectacularly long-distance migrants. One can only marvel at the distances travelled by some species.

Tube-nosed species such as those represented by the procellarid group can be seen throughout the oceans of the world but the southern oceans are particularly awe-inspiring, with a wide variety of species and in many locations huge numbers of birds occupying what to us is considered inhospitable habitat. A pterodroma arcing over the horizon epitomises the untamed ocean realm and they appear at home miles from land in, what to us would be, frightening seas.

The group consists of Fulmars, Shearwaters, Diving Petrels & Prions and a long list of petrel species ranging from the Snow Petrel in Antarctica to the Westland Petrel in New Zealand. Many locations support huge numbers of seabirds. These can include a half-million Sooty Shearwaters circling the shores of Monterey Bay, California, in the northern summer, over 3 million Short-tailed Shearwaters migrating from Japanese waters to Tasmania each year or flights of thousands of prions at high latitudes in the South Atlantic Ocean. For sea-watchers in northern waters, Autumn storms often presage passages of wave-clipping shearwaters but one needs luck to see many species from the land in Europe or North America.

Anyone that has been on an oceanic voyage in the southern ocean will be struck by the variety and density of seabirds but sadly many species are very rare, endangered and little known and much work is required to ensure their continued existence.

Procellarids mostly breed on offshore islands, many of them using burrows or caves. Because they nest on the ground they are especially susceptible to ground predators like dogs, cats, rats, weasels and the like, some in Australia may lose young to snakes! Because many of the important breeding islands are not predator-free, procellarids have declined in many places around the world. Efforts to save petrel and shearwater populations have galvanised conservation efforts globally. UK conservation recently declared one historic breeding island predator free for the first time in over a century and such effort needs to be made in many other locations where man has thoughtlessly allowed domestic pets to run wild or accidentally introduced verminous rodents.

A number of scientific papers, books and websites are tackling this family – see below for details.

This group fascinates us in the same way as Whales and Dolphins do – they are at home in an element that is awe-inspiringly powerful, and seem oblivious to conditions that are often very frightening to humans.

There are, according to the IOC some 97 extant species of Procellariidae, which are:

Southern Giant Petrel Macronectes giganteus
Northern Giant Petrel Macronectes halli

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis
Southern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialoides

Antarctic Petrel Thalassoica antarctica

Cape Petrel Daption capense

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

Blue Petrel Halobaena caerulea

Broad-billed Prion Pachyptila vittata
Salvin's Prion Pachyptila salvini
Antarctic Prion Pachyptila desolata
Slender-billed Prion Pachyptila belcheri
Fairy Prion Pachyptila turtur
Fulmar Prion Pachyptila crassirostris

Kerguelen Petrel Aphrodroma brevirostris

Great-winged Petrel Pterodroma macroptera
White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii
Grey-faced Petrel Pterodroma gouldi
Atlantic Petrel Pterodroma incerta
Providence Petrel Pterodroma solandri
Magenta Petrel Pterodroma magentae
Murphy's Petrel Pterodroma ultima
Soft-plumaged Petrel Pterodroma mollis
Zino's Petrel Pterodroma madeira
Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae
Desertas Petrel Pterodroma deserta
Bermuda Petrel Pterodroma cahow
Black-capped Petrel Pterodroma hasitata
Jamaican Petrel Pterodroma caribbaea
Juan Fernandez Petrel Pterodroma externa
Vanuatu Petrel Pterodroma occulta
Kermadec Petrel Pterodroma neglecta
Herald Petrel Pterodroma heraldica
Trindade Petrel Pterodroma arminjoniana
Henderson Petrel Pterodroma atrata
Phoenix Petrel Pterodroma alba
Barau's Petrel Pterodroma baraui
Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma sandwichensis
Galapagos Petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia
Mottled Petrel Pterodroma inexpectata
White-necked Petrel Pterodroma cervicalis
Black-winged Petrel Pterodroma nigripennis
Chatham Petrel Pterodroma axillaris
Bonin Petrel Pterodroma hypoleuca
Gould's Petrel Pterodroma leucoptera
Collared Petrel Pterodroma brevipes
Cook's Petrel Pterodroma cookii
De Filippi's Petrel Pterodroma defilippiana
Stejneger's Petrel Pterodroma longirostris
Pycroft's Petrel Pterodroma pycrofti

Mascarene Petrel Pseudobulweria aterrima
Tahiti Petrel Pseudobulweria rostrata
Beck's Petrel Pseudobulweria becki
Fiji Petrel Pseudobulweria macgillivrayi

Grey Petrel Procellaria cinerea
White-chinned Petrel Procellaria aequinoctialis
Spectacled Petrel Procellaria conspicillata
Black Petrel Procellaria parkinsoni
Westland Petrel Procellaria westlandica

Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas
Scopoli's Shearwater Calonectris diomedea
Cory's Shearwater Calonectris borealis
Cape Verde Shearwater Calonectris edwardsii

Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica
Buller's Shearwater Ardenna bulleri
Sooty Shearwater Ardenna grisea
Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris
Pink-footed Shearwater Ardenna creatopus
Flesh-footed Shearwater Ardenna carneipes
Great Shearwater Ardenna gravis

Christmas Shearwater Puffinus nativitatis
Manx Shearwater Puffinus puffinus
Yelkouan Shearwater Puffinus yelkouan
Balearic Shearwater Puffinus mauretanicus
Bryan's Shearwater Puffinus bryani
Black-vented Shearwater Puffinus opisthomelas
Townsend's Shearwater Puffinus auricularis
Newell's Shearwater Puffinus newelli
Rapa Shearwater Puffinus myrtae
Fluttering Shearwater Puffinus gavia
Hutton's Shearwater Puffinus huttoni
Audubon's Shearwater Puffinus lherminieri
Persian Shearwater Puffinus persicus
Tropical Shearwater Puffinus bailloni
Galapagos Shearwater Puffinus subalaris
Bannerman's Shearwater Puffinus bannermani
Heinroth's Shearwater Puffinus heinrothi
Little Shearwater Puffinus assimilis
Subantarctic Shearwater Puffinus elegans
Barolo Shearwater Puffinus baroli
Boyd's Shearwater Puffinus boydi

Peruvian Diving Petrel Pelecanoides garnotii
Magellanic Diving Petrel Pelecanoides magellani
South Georgia Diving Petrel Pelecanoides georgicus
Common Diving Petrel Pelecanoides urinatrix

Bulwer's Petrel Bulweria bulwerii
Jouanin's Petrel Bulweria fallax

Family Links

Petrels, Prions & Shearwaters Procellariidae

Family Account

There is just something about procellarids — the petrels, shearwaters, and allies. Perhaps it is their gliding flight over the waves, covering huge distances without apparent effort.

Petrels, Prions & Shearwaters Procellariidae

Family Account

The family Procellariidae is a group of seabirds that comprises the fulmarine petrels, the gadfly petrels, the prions, and the shearwaters. This family is part of the bird order Procellariiformes (or tubenoses), which also includes the albatrosses, the storm petrels, and the diving petrels.

Petrels, Prions & Shearwaters Procellariidae

HBW Family Account

Annotated species list

Petrels, Prions & Shearwaters Procellariidae

Cornell Family Account

Species Links

Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

RSPB Species Account

Species account - The leach's petrel is a starling-sized seabird. Birds are all black underneath and mostly black above, apart from a white rump. It has a forked tail. The white rump has a black line down it.

Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

Species Account

The Leach's storm petrel or Leach's petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) is a small seabird of the tubenose family. It is named after the British zoologist William Elford Leach.

Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

BirdLife Species Account

Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

BTO Species Account

Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

Species Account

The northern fulmar (Fulmarus glacialis), fulmar, or Arctic fulmar is a highly abundant sea bird found primarily in subarctic regions of the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

BirdLife Species Account

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

Cornell Species Account

A gull-like relative of albatrosses and shearwaters, the Northern Fulmar is a bird of the northern oceans.

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Procellaria glacialis Linnaeus, 1761, within the Arctic Circle = Spitsbergen. Closely related to F. glacialoides. Validity of race auduboni has often been questioned. Birds from N Greenland sometimes considered to represent separate race, minor, but size variation of species is clinal. Three subspecies normally recognized.

Northern Fulmar Fulmarus glacialis

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

Species Account

Snow petrels are pure white birds with black beaks and eyes. They are the size of a pigeon and arguably the most beautiful of all the Antarctic birds…

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

BirdLife Species Account

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

Species Account

The snow petrel (Pagodroma nivea) is the only member of the genus Pagodroma. It is one of only three birds that breed exclusively in Antarctica and has been seen at the South Pole. It has the most southerly breeding distribution of any bird

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

IUCN Species Status

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

HBW Species Account

Taxonomy: Procellaria nivea G. Forster, 1777, latitude 52° S, longitude 20° E. Races may constitute two separate species, as sympatry without interbreeding reported from E Antarctica; alternative view claims that most colonies are mixed, with extensive zone of hybridization; subspecific distribution confused, and some authors prefer to recognize a single monotypic species. Race major previously listed as confusa, but major has priority. Two subspecies recognized.

Snow Petrel Pagodroma nivea

Species Account

Sound archive and distribution map.

Contributor

Number of Species

Number of bird species: 97

Useful Reading

Flight Identification of European Seabirds

by Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom from Christopher Helm April 2003 Price ?35. See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713660201

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Seabirds

by Peter Harrison - Helm 1985

ISBN: 071363510X

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Seabirds - a natural history

by Anthony J Gaston A&C Black 2004
See Fatbirder Review

ISBN: 0713665572

Buy this book from NHBS.com

Organisations

Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association

Website

SOSSA was founded by members of the New South Wales Albatross Study Group (NSWASG) in 1994. It was set up to be an umbrella organisation for many study groups concerned with studies of Southern Ocean bio-diversity. SOSSA is a wildlife research and conservation group which consists of dedicated people both professional and amateur. These people share a common interest and concern for the environment and the wildlife of the Southern Oceans.

The Seabird Group

Website

The Seabird Group, a registered charity, was founded in 1966 to promote and help coordinate the study and conservation of seabirds…

Forums & Mailing Lists

Pelagic Tours Discussion Group

Mailing List

Pelagics is for providing infomation on upcoming and past birding tours - and for pricing information and schedules - and questions - those providing tours should respond to any questions.

Other Links

California Dark-Rumped Petrels: Hawaiian vs. Galapagos Petrel

Website

It is now widely reported that the A.O.U. has voted to split Dark-rumped Petrel into two species: Galapagos Petrel Pterodroma phaeopygia and Hawaiian Petrel Pterodroma sandwichensis

Pelagic Birding - Tony Palliser

Website

Welcome to the Australian Pelagic Home Page: A page dedicated to those with an interest in pelagic bird watching, photography and whale-watching. Offering some interesting information on what can be seen around oceans of Australia. Pelagic trips have been departing from a number of ports around Australia for many years now, providing a considerable amount of information on the birds and mammals likely to be encountered.

Seabird Osteology

Website

The Seabirds Skull Gallery, existing since 2002, has only been changed a bit and was given a new name that covers the subject more properly. After two years working on this site it is not only skulls anymore that are shown. Regular visitors have already noticed that since December 2004 the scope has widened. It now includes also other parts of the seabird skeleton. In the Seabird Osteology section general aspects of seabird osteology are treated and in the species section you willl find a listing of families and groups with links to pages on skeletons of particular species or groups. There is always work in progress, which means that there will be additions and improvements from time to time…