PHOTO CAPTION: Markham’s Storm-petrel

The storm-petrels are seabirds in the family Hydrobatidae, and part of the order Procellariiformes. They are the smallest of seabirds and relatives of the petrels. They feed on planktonic crustaceans and small fish picked from the surface, typically while hovering. The flight is fluttering and sometimes bat-like.

Storm-petrels have a broad-based distribution and are found in all oceans. They are strictly pelagic, coming to land only when breeding. In the case of most species, little is known of their behavior and distribution at sea, where they can be hard to find and harder to identify.

Storm-petrels nest in colonies on islands, and generally only arrive in the evenings. One white egg is laid in a burrow in turf or soft soil. Both sexes incubate in shifts of up to six days. The egg hatches after 40 or 50 days; the young is brooded continuously for another 7 days or so before being left alone in the nest during the day and fed by regurgitation at night. Nestlings and parents leave the nest together after 60 to 70 days.

The name “petrel” is a diminutive form of “Peter”, a reference to Saint Peter. This name was given to these birds because they sometimes appear to walk across the water’s surface. Early sailors named these birds “Mother Carey’s Chickens” because they were thought to warn of oncoming storms; this name is based on a corrupted form of Mater Cara, a name for the Blessed Virgin Mary.

There are two subfamilies. The Oceanitinadae are mostly found in southern waters; there are 7 species in 5 genera. These have short wings, square tails, elongated skulls, and feed by hopping and fluttering on the water. All but one species have white underparts; the exception is Wilson’s Storm-petrel which is also the only one to regularly migrate any great distance into the northern hemisphere.

The Hydrobatinae are thought to descend from an ancestor of Wilson’s Storm-petrel. The 14 species in 3 closely related genera have longer wings, forked or wedge-shaped tails, and walk on the water rather than hop. All but two are wholly dark in color. They are largely restricted to the northern hemisphere, although a few can visit or breed a short distance beyond the equator.


  • Subfamily Oceanitinae
    • Wilson’s Storm-petrel, Oceanites oceanicus
    • New Zealand Storm-petrel, Oceanites maorianus
    • White-vented Storm-petrel, Oceanites gracilis
    • Grey-backed Storm-petrel, Garrodia nereis
    • White-faced Storm-petrel, Pelagodroma marina
    • Black-bellied Storm-petrel or Gould’s Storm-Petrel, Fregatta tropica
    • White-bellied Storm-petrel, Fregatta grallaria
    • Polynesian Storm-petrel, Nesofregetta fuliginosa
  • Subfamily Hydrobatinae
    • European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus
    • Leach’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa
    • Matsudaira’s Storm-petrel Oceanodroma matsudairae
    • Least Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma microsoma
    • Wedge-rumped Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma tethys
    • Madeiran Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma castro
    • Swinhoe’s Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma monorhis
    • Guadalupe Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma macrodactyla (extinct)
    • Tristram’s Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma tristrami
    • Markham’s Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma markhami
    • Black Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma melania
    • Ashy Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma homochroa
    • Ringed Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma hornbyi
    • Fork-tailed Storm-petrel, Oceanodroma furcata