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Hydrobatidae – Northern Storm-Petrels

European Storm Petrel in the Isles of Scilly: Photo by Nathaniel Dargue

Welcome to our guides on Hydrobatidae, also known as storm petrels. Found across the world’s oceans, these small seabirds are adept at navigating the open seas, often trailing behind ships or marine mammals. With their distinctive fluttering flight and delicate hovering over the water’s surface, storm petrels are skilled hunters, snatching up planktonic invertebrates and fish as they patter along wave faces. Despite their diminutive size, these ocean wanderers are formidable fliers, relying on constant flapping to traverse vast expanses of ocean in search of food and suitable nesting sites.

Overview of Hydrobatidae

These northern storm-petrels boast shorter legs and skulls but longer wings compared to their Oceanitidae relatives. During the nonbreeding season, they embark on long journeys to distant corners of the Earth, only to return to their home colony where they rear a single chick in a burrow. The chicks, adorned with thick downy feathers several centimeters thick, emit the characteristic musky scent typical of this order. This scent aids the birds in navigating back to their burrows during the dark of night, a crucial skill as they often visit their isolated island colonies under the cover of darkness to evade predation by gulls or frigatebirds.