Hydrobatidae – Northern Storm Petrels

European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus ©Trevor Hardaker Website

The Hydrobatidae are otherwise known as Northern Storm petrels; they are seabirds, part of the order Procellariiformes. Two subfamilies were traditionally recognized. The Oceanitinae that are mostly found in southern waters (though the Wilson’s storm petrel regularly migrates into the northern hemisphere); there are seven species in five genera. The Hydrobatinae are the two genera Hydrobates and Oceanodroma. They are largely restricted to the northern hemisphere, although a few can visit or breed a short distance beyond the equator. Cytochrome b DNA sequence analysis suggests that the family is paraphyletic and so they are more accurately treated as distinct families.

These smallest of seabirds feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. Their flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like. They are strictly pelagic, coming to land only when breeding. In the case of most species, little is known of their behaviour and distribution at sea, where they can be hard to find and harder to identify. They are colonial nesters, displaying strong philopatry to their natal colonies and nesting sites. Most species nest in crevices or burrows and all but one species attend the breeding colonies nocturnally. Pairs form long-term monogamous bonds and share incubation and chick-feeding duties. Like many species of seabird, nesting is highly protracted with incubation taking up to 50 days and fledging another 70 days after that.

The diet of many storm petrels species is poorly known owing to difficulties in researching; overall the family is thought to concentrate on crustaceans.[9] Small fish, oil droplets and molluscs are also taken by many species. Some species are known to be rather more specialised; the grey-backed storm petrel is known to concentrate on the larvae of goose barnacles. Almost all species forage in the pelagic zone. Although storm petrels are capable of swimming well and often form rafts on the water’s surface they do not feed on the water. Instead feeding usually takes place on the wing, with birds hovering above or “walking” on the surface (see morphology) and snatching small morsels. Rarely prey is obtained by making shallow dives under the surface.

There are, according to the IOC, 18 species of Northern Storm Petrels, which are:

European Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus

Least Storm Petrel Oceanodroma microsoma
Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma tethys
Band-rumped Storm Petrel Oceanodroma castro
Monteiro’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monteiroi
Cape Verde Storm Petrel Oceanodroma jabejabe
Swinhoe’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma monorhis
Leach’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa
Townsend’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma socorroensis
Ainley’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma cheimomnestes
Markham’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma markhami
Tristram’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma tristrami
Black Storm Petrel Oceanodroma melania
Guadalupe Storm Petrel Oceanodroma macrodactyla
Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma matsudairae
Ashy Storm Petrel Oceanodroma homochroa
Hornby’s Storm Petrel Oceanodroma hornbyi
Fork-tailed Storm Petrel Oceanodroma furcata

Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 18

Useful Reading
  • Field Guide to the Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World

    by Derek Onley and Paul ScofieldSeries: HELM FIELD GUIDES 224 pages, 46 colour plates, distribution maps. Christopher Helm 2007 ISBN: 9780713643329 Buy this book from NHBS.com
  • 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

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