Day 20 of 100 Days of Blogging

The Storm-petrel seems a fitting bird to feature on a rainy Sunday afternoon here in Montreal. Granted by virtue of its name, not because you are likely to spot one during a typical week-end birding adventure! They spend most of the year feeding out in the ocean. However, If you are dreaming of a
pelagic bird watching trip someday, put them on your list of must-see birds! They’re not just cool because they breed in one of the coldest places on earth; Storm-petrels have an unusual flight maneuver which lands them top billing in our “coolest bird of the week” feature.

Coolest Bird of the Week #3: The Wilson’s Storm-petrel  (Oceanites oceanicus )

#1. Family Ties
Storm-petrels belong to the order Procellariiformes which are commonly referred to as Tubenoses. There are 22 species of Storm-petrels world-wide. The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel is one of the few birds to breed in the Antarctic. 

#2. Just the Stats Ma’am
The Wilson’s is one of the smaller species in the  Hydrobatidae family (averaging only about 7 inches in length) and has a sooty- black plumage with a white rump. A pelagic species, it only comes to land during the breeding season.

#3. I’m no hummingbird, but I manage!
Petrels seem to have the ability to walk on water! This illusion comes from the hovering type flight maneuver they use to search for food out in the ocean. The Wilson’s Petrel folds its wings back in a v-shape while flying into the wind ,and anchors its feet into the water for stability in a pattering movement. This technique helps it to keep its head still and make it easier to search for food! It eats mostly plankton. It can also do this in relatively calm water by using the slight breeze caused by the lapping of the ocean’s waves.

Play the video file to see this bird in action as it “walks” on water.

#4. What’s in a name
“Petrel” is a diminutive of the name Peter, and refers to Saint-Peter of the bible who was said to walk on water. Wilson’s referes to 19th century ornithologist Alexander Wilson, featured in a recent post about 10 birds and how they go their names. 

#5  Folklore
The Petrels have along history with sailors and often follow ships. The word “storm” in its common name harks back to the days of sailing vessels, when petrels were said to hide in the leeward part of ships during a storm.

#6. I get around!
The Wilson’s Storm-petrel is one of the most abundant bird species in the world. Petrels spend most of  the year at sea and move into the northern oceans during the southern hemisphere’s winter. It is commonly found off eastern North America during northern summer.

Storm-petrael Distribution Map

Blue shading indicates the oceanic distribution of the Storm-petrel (Source: Wikimedia)

#7. Salty water?  No problem, I’ve got the right schnoz for the job!
Storm-petrels drink only sea water but the prominent tubenose structure enables the filtering and excretion of the salty solution through the nostrils. 

#8. Wanted: remote honeymoon location, the colder the better
The Wilson’s Storm-petrel breeds on remote rocky islands in the Southern hemisphere. It is the smallest warm-blooded animal that breeds in the Antarctic region.

#9. I’m fine with DIY! 
Storm-petrels nest in rock crevices or in underground burrows which they dig themselves. They lay only one egg and are active only at night in order to avoid predation by gulls and skuas. Both parents tend to the single chick. 

#10. There’s not much else to do out here, so I’m Dancing in the Dark…
The courtship flight takes place in total darkness; possibly the white rump on species like the Wilson’s help the birds to see each other.