Storm Petrel

Due to the belief that their arrival heralded the storm, these ill-omened "Mother Carey's chickens" were also referred to as "satanites," "water witches," and "birds of the devil"

Antarctic Peninsula

Name: Storm Petrel. Note – “Storm Petrel” is a catch-all phrase referring to two subfamilies of birds with a number of different species found therein.

Length: 13 to 26 cm, depending on species.

Weight: Depends on species.

Location: Oceans worldwide.

Conservation status: Depends on species.

Diet: Crustaceans, small fish, molluscs.

Appearance: Oceanitinae – Square tails, long skulls, long legs, short wings. Most species of this family have dark backs and heads with white underparts. Hydrobatinae – Forked or wedge-shaped tails, longer wings, shorter legs. Most Hydrobatinae members are darker with white on the rump. However the Fork-tailed Storm Petrel is grey all over and the Hornby's Storm Petrel has white facial markings and undersides.

How do Storm Petrels feed?

Strom Petrels hover above the water to pick small crustaceans and fish from just under the surface. They are also capable of making shallow dives but this option is rarely chosen.


They are often seen in the vicinity of underwater predators like whales or seals that chase prey fish to the surface making them easier to catch.

Are Storm Petrels social?

Storm Petrels form colonies during the nesting season that can range into the hundreds of thousands or even millions.

What are Storm Petrel birthing rituals like?

Colonies of Storm Petrels return year after year to the same nesting locations. The nests are built in burrows or crevices in rock. All but one species of Storm Petrel become nocturnal at the nesting sites in order to cut down on their chances of being spotted by predators and leading them back to the eggs or young (Wedge-rumped Storm Petrels being the exception).


Adults are monogamous and will return to each other in following seasons. A single egg is laid. Both parents take turns caring for the egg during the incubation period of around 50 days in 6-day shifts, followed by a rearing period of another 70 days.

How long do Storm Petrels live?

Storm Petrels can live for around 30 years.

Do Storm Petrels have any natural predators?

Storm Petrel eggs and young are preyed upon by introduced mammals like feral cats and rats, as well as Skuas and Gulls, depending on the nest’s location.

7 Stunning Storm Petrel Facts

  • Storm Petrels are an example of bird that shows a strong sense of philopatry. This comes from a Greek word meaning “home loving”. It refers to the birds’ tendency to return to the same nesting sites season after season.
  • The subfamilies of Storm Petrels break down as follows:
    • Subfamily: Hydrobatinae
      • Hydrobates pelagicus – European Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma castro - Band-rumped Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma furcate - Fork-tailed Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma homochroa - Ashy Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma hornbyi - Hornby's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma leucorhoa - Leach's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma macrodactyla - Guadalupe Storm Petrel (extinct)
      • Oceanodroma markhami - Markham's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma melania - Black Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma microsoma - Least Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma monorhis - Swinhoe's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma monteiroi - Monteiro's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma Tethys - Wedge-rumped Storm Petrel
      • Oceanodroma tristrami - Tristram's Storm Petrel
    • Subfamily:Oceanitinae
      • Fregetta grallaria - White-bellied Storm Petrel
      • Fregetta tropica - Black-bellied Storm Petrel a.k.a. Gould's Storm Petrel
      • Garrodia nereis - Grey-backed Storm Petrel
      • Nesofregetta fuliginosa - Polynesian Storm Petrel (includes White-throated Storm Petrel)
      • Oceanites gracilis - Elliot's Storm Petrel
      • Oceanites maorianus - New Zealand Storm Petrel
      • Oceanites oceanicus - Wilson's Storm Petrel
      • Pelagodroma marina - White-faced Storm Petrel
  • Storm Petrels are the smallest form of seabird in the world.
  •  “Petrel” refers to Saint Peter walking on water.
  • Storm Petrels have weak legs that cannot support the bird for more than a few steps at a time on land.
  • Storm Petrels used to be referred to as “Mother Carey’s chickens” by sailors. This is slang for the Latin Mater Cara, a name for the Virgin Mary. The birds were considered a divine warning that storms were on their way.
  • Stormy Petrels have also been referred to as “water-witches”, “satanites”, “sataniques”, and “oiseau du diable” (“bird of the devil”) in reference to their association with storms.    

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