Antarctic birds: Wilsons Storm-Petrel

From the largest members of the tubenose-family, we continue with one of the smallest: the Wilson’s Storm-petrel. The Wilson’s Storm-petrel is one of the most numerous species of seabird in the world and among the most numerous of all bird species with several million breeding pairs.

Wilsons Stormvogel; Wilson's Storm Petrel; Oceanites oceanicus
Wilson’s Storm-petrel in flight

Where the Giant Petrels can have a wingspan of over 2 meters, the Wilson’s Storm-petrel only measures around 40 centimetres from one wingtip to another. I know they are true pelagic birds, only coming ashore to breed, but somehow I’m always surprised when I see one in a storm in the middle of the ocean. They have a brown plumage with a cream-coloured wingbar and a white rump patch.

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Wilson’s Storm-petrel in flight

They feed on a variety of prey they can find in the upper parts of the water column, which they will catch by grabbing items from the surface, plunging into the water and, occasionally, shallow diving. They are often seen trampling on the water, giving them the nickname ‘Jesus-birds’.

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Their habit of trampling on the water gives them the nickname ‘Jesus-bird’.

They are often seen following ships or close to cetaceans, feeding on the items they bring to the surface. We also see them close to shore, as they do need to come to land to breed. They breed both on the Antarctic Peninsula as on a range of subantarctic islands. As they are so small, they are easy prey for giant petrels, Kelp Gulls and skuas, so they have to take precautions to avoid predation. They make their nest in between rocks and in parts of the world where it gets dark at night, they often wait for twilight to return to their nest or leave their nest.

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A Wilson’s Storm-petrel close to its nest (in the crack between the rocks)

 

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