Storm petrel

Storm petrel ©Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Storm petrel

Storm petrel ©Tom Hibbert

Storm petrel

Scientific name: Hydrobates pelagicus
Storm petrels may be Britain’s smallest seabird, but they make up for their size with their impressive lifestyle! They spend most of their time out at sea, only returning to land to have chicks. They have a bizarre song, making almost a purring sound – a little like a cat!

Species information

Statistics

Length: 16cm
Wingspan: 38cm
Weight: 27g
Average lifespan: 11 years

Conservation status

Classified in the UK as Amber under the Birds of Conservation Concern 4: the Red List for Birds (2015).

When to see

April to October

About

These sea-loving birds spend most of their time out on the ocean, only returning to land to have little storm petrel chicks. Due to their tiny size, they are prone to being eaten on land – so they choose their nests very carefully, often living on little islands where mammals such as rats and mice aren’t around, nesting in burrows or rocky holes. They can be heard singing their bizarre purring call at night, throwing in the occasional squeak and grunt! These amazing birds have a superpower: an incredible sense of smell that helps them find food from great distances when flying over open ocean. Luckily, storm petrels are known for giving off a pleasant smell, making them a favourite for bird watchers and scientists!

How to identify

A tiny, delicate-looking seabird, not much larger than a house martin, which its plumage slightly resembles. It has dark, brownish-black wings, body and head, with a broad white patch of white on the rump and a short, dark, square-ended tail. There is a distinctive white band on the underside of each wing, which helps separate this species from other similar storm petrels.

When seen closely, the small bill has a distinctive ‘tube’ on top, giving it away as a member of the group of seabirds known as tubenoses, which includes albatrosses, shearwaters and the fulmar.

Distribution

Storm petrels nest on rocky islands around the western coasts of the UK and off the Northern Isles, with most found around Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Away from breeding colonies, they are best looked for from prominent headlands in autumn, when there is a strong onshore wind blowing birds closer to land.

Did you know?

Storm petrels typically feed by picking small fish, crustaceans and plankton from the surface of the sea. They seem to run across the water, their wings held up in a V-shape as their webbed feet patter on the surface. The scientific name, Hydrobates pelagicus, comes from Ancient Greek and roughly translates as ‘to step on water on the open sea’.

How people can help

Storm petrels depend on healthy seas, so it is essential for their survival that we look after our oceans. The Wildlife Trusts are working towards a vision for Living Seas, where wildlife thrives alongside the sustainable use of our seas' resources.

Show your love for the sea by supporting your local Wildlife Trust, reducing your plastic use and adding your voice to our campaign for Living Seas.