Storm petrels avoid being attacked by skuas and gulls by only returning to their nests in the dead of night. The little seabirds spend much of their time over the sea and hunt for small fish and crustaceans by fluttering over water and dancing or pattering their feet on the waves. Flocks of storm petrels can also sometimes be spotted following in the wake of trawlers in pursuit of food. The smallest of the European seabirds, storm petrels are barely larger than a sparrow and sport a white-feathered rump. The birds breed in colonies and favour rocky ground and islands on which to make their underground nests.
Did you know?
Around 90% of the breeding population is found in the UK, Ireland and the Faroe Islands.
Scientific name: Hydrobates pelagicus
European storm petrel
The following habitats are found across the Storm petrel distribution range. Find out more about these environments, what it takes to live there and what else inhabits them.
Discover what these behaviours are and how different plants and animals use them.
Additional data source: Animal Diversity Web
Year assessed: 2009
Classified by: IUCN 3.1
The European Storm Petrel, British Storm Petrel or just Storm Petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) is a seabird in the storm petrel family, Hydrobatidae. It is the only member of the genus Hydrobates. The small, square-tailed bird is entirely black except for a broad white rump and a white band on the underwings, and it has a fluttering, bat-like flight. The large majority of the population breeds on islands off the coasts of Europe, with the greatest numbers in the Faroe Islands, United Kingdom, Ireland and Iceland. The Mediterranean population is a separate subspecies, but is inseparable at sea from its Atlantic relatives; its strongholds are Filfla Island (Malta), Sicily and the Balearic Islands.
The Storm Petrel nests in crevices and burrows, sometimes shared with other seabirds or rabbits, and lays a single white egg, usually on bare soil. The adults share the lengthy incubation and both feed the chick, which is not normally brooded after the first week. This bird is strongly migratory, spending the northern hemisphere winter mainly off the coasts of South Africa and Namibia, with some birds stopping in the seas adjoining West Africa, and a few remaining near their Mediterranean breeding islands. This petrel is strictly oceanic outside the breeding season. It feeds on small fish, squid and zooplankton while pattering on the sea's surface, and can find oily edible items by smell. The food is converted in the bird's stomach to an oily orange liquid which is regurgitated when the chick is fed. Although usually silent at sea, the Storm Petrel has a chattering call given by both members of a pair in their courtship flight, and the male has a purring song given from the breeding chamber.
The Storm Petrel cannot survive on islands where land mammals such as rats and cats have been introduced, and it suffers natural predation from gulls, skuas, owls and falcons. Although the population may be declining slightly, this petrel is classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature as being of Least Concern due to its high total numbers. Its presence in rough weather at sea has led to various mariners' superstitions, and, by analogy, to its use as a symbol by revolutionary and anarchist groups.
This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.