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Procellariidae – Shearwaters and Petrels

Cape Petrel in New Zealand: Photo by James Kennerley

The Procellariidae, or true petrels, are masterful navigators of the world’s oceans, from the frigid poles to the temperate and tropical seas. These seabirds are characterized by their tube-like nostrils, which help them excrete excess salt from their diet of marine prey. Known for their remarkable long-distance migrations, some species travel thousands of kilometers between breeding and feeding grounds. With a variety of feeding strategies, from surface seizing to plunge diving, petrels are adept at exploiting the rich marine resources. Their highly developed sense of smell aids in locating food and navigating vast oceanic expanses.

Overview of Procellariidae

Hundreds of millions of shearwaters and petrels disperse each year after breeding, following oceanic currents in vast loops that span the Earth. These dynamic soaring masters, ranging in size from thrush-like prions to albatross-sized giant petrels, traverse the oceans more efficiently than any human-engineered craft. With diets and habits as diverse as their sizes, and an exceptional sense of smell typical of many in this order, they locate planktonic prey across the featureless seas. This olfactory prowess also guides them to their specific nesting burrows among thousands of others, enabling the remarkable precision in returning home that has fostered their species’ diversification across the world’s islands.