Procellariidae – Petrels, Diving Petrels & Shearwaters

Peruvian Diving Petrel Pagodroma nivea ©Steven Brumby Website

Petrels, Diving Petrels & Shearwaters are 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.

Species List

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

Species Links
  • Leach's Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa

    BTO Species Account
  • 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

    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
    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

    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

    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

    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

    Species Account
    Sound archive and distribution map.
Number of Species
  • Number of bird species: 97

Useful Reading
  • Albatrosses and Petrels across the World

    | (Procellariidae) | by Michael Brooke | OUP | 2004 | Hardback | 499 pages, 16 colour plates, 31 b/w illustrations, 168 maps | ISBN: 9780198501251 Buy this book from
  • Albatrosses, Petrels and Shearwaters of the World

    | By Derek Onley & Paul Scofield | Christopher Helm | 2007 | Paperback | 240 pages, 46 colour plates, distribution maps | ISBN: 9780713643329 Buy this book from
  • Flight Identification of European Seabirds

    | By Anders Blomdahl, Bertil Breife & Niklas Holmstrom | Christopher Helm | 2003 | Paperback | 374 pages, 690 colour photos | ISBN: 9780713686166 Buy this book from
  • Petrels Night and Day

    | (A Sound Approach) | Magnus Robb & Killian Mullarney | The Sound Approach | 2008 | Hardback | 300 pages, Colour photos, figures, maps | ISBN: 9789081093323 Buy this book from
  • Petrels, Albatrosses & Storm-Petrels of North America

    | (A Photographic Guide) | by Steve NG Howell | Princeton UP | 2012 | Hardback | 483 pages, 975 colour photos and colour illustrations, 66 colour distribution maps | ISBN: 9780691142111 Buy this book from
  • Seabirds

    | By Peter Harrison | Christopher Helm | 1991 | Hardback | 448 pages, 324 distribution maps, 88 colour plates, line drawings | ISBN: 9780713635102 Buy this book from
  • Seabirds - a natural history

    | By Anthony J Gaston | A&C Black | 2004 | Hardback | 222 pages, 22 colour plates, b/w photos, illustrations, figures | ISBN: 9780713665574 Buy this book from
  • Storm-petrels of the Eastern Pacific Ocean

    | (Species Assembly and Diversity along Marine Habitat Gradients) | by Larry B Spear & David G Ainley | AOU | 2007 | Paperback | 77 pages, Figures, tables | ISBN: 9780943610719 Buy this book from
  • Southern Oceans Seabird Study Association

    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

    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
  • Pelagic Birding - Tony Palliser

    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.

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