European storm-petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus)

Also known as: British storm petrel, European storm petrel, storm petrel
  
French: Pétrel tempête
KingdomAnimalia
PhylumChordata
ClassAves
OrderProcellariiformes
FamilyHydrobatidae
GenusHydrobates (1)
SizeLength: 14 - 18 cm (2)
Wing span: 36 - 39 cm (2)
Weight23 - 29 g (2)

The European storm-petrel is classified as Least Concern (LC) on the IUCN Red List (1).

A diminutive seabird with a streamlined body and large, elongated wings, the European storm-petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus) is superbly adapted for life out at sea. As a member of the order Procellariiformes, or tubenoses, it has a nasal salt gland connected to a fused nostril, which is used to expel excess salt after drinking seawater, and it has a small, hooked, black beak used to grasp its slippery prey (3). It has a steep forehead and short legs with webbed feed that do not project past the square-ish tail when flying (2). Apart from a white rump and a white bar on the under-wing, the European storm-petrel is mainly glossy black (2).

In the summer, the European storm-petrel is found across the north-eastern Atlantic, ranging from Iceland and Norway, south to Portugal. Before winter, it migrates south to the east coast of Northern Africa and the Mediterranean, occasionally as far south as South Africa (2). The European storm-petrel has one of the most restricted ranges of any storm-petrel species (4).

The European storm-petrel spends most of its life over open water far out at sea, returning to land only to breed. During the breeding season, it nests on rocky offshore islands lacking mammalian predators and visits both open water and coastal waters to hunt (1) (2) (5).

The European storm-petrel feeds mainly on small fish, squid and crustaceans, but also eats jellyfish (2) (4) (5) (6). It hunts mainly on the wing, dipping its bill in the water whilst pattering its feet along the surface to scoop up submerged prey (7). It occasionally follows in the wake of ships to pick up discards (2) (5) (6).

A truly monogamous species, pairs of European storm petrels stay together for life once they have bonded. After mating, a single large egg is laid in a rock crevice or burrow in a colony, from May or June. The European storm petrel only emerges from its concealed nest during the darkest hours of night, to reduce predation by gulls and skuas and to keep the location of the burrow hidden (3). The adult birds share the incubation duties and, after approximately 41 days, the chick hatches as a silvery-grey ball of fluffy feathers. Should the chick survive fledging, it has a long life expectancy of over 20 years, reaching sexual maturity after four or five years (2). Due to the egg weighing up to 25 percent of the female’s weight, and the lengthy incubation and fledging period, raising young is a costly investment for the breeding pair (3) (4).

Although the European storm-petrel has a restricted range and a slightly declining population, it is not thought to currently be at risk of extinction. The main threat to this species is the accidental introduction of invasive predators, such as rats and feral cats, to nesting islands in southern Europe and the Mediterranean. The European storm-petrel is particularly vulnerable to these predators as it typically nests on predator free islands, meaning its ground nests are highly vulnerable to predation.

In some parts of its range, the European storm petrel is also threatened by predation from increasing numbers of skuas and large gulls. In addition, the European storm-petrel is at slight risk of eating contaminated food items and indigestible matter, such as plastic bags or fishing lines (1) (5).

There are no known conservation plans targeting the European storm-petrel.

More information on the European storm-petrel and other bird species:

This information is awaiting authentication by a species expert, and will be updated as soon as possible. If you are able to help please contact:
arkive@wildscreen.org.uk

  1. IUCN Red List (September, 2010)
    http://www.iucnredlist.org/
  2. del Hoyo, J., Elliott, A. and Sargatal, J.  (1992) Handbook of the Birds of the World. Volume 1: Ostrich to Ducks. Lynx Edicions, Barcelona.
  3. Perrins, C. (2009) The Encyclopedia of Birds. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK.
  4. Burton, M. and Burton, R. (2002) International Wildlife Encyclopedia. Marshall Cavendish Corporation, New York, USA.
  5. BirdLife International (September, 2010)
    http://www.birdlife.org/datazone/species/index.html?action=SitHTMDetails.asp&sid=2594&m=0
  6. The Royal Society for the Protection of Birds - European storm-petrel (September, 2010)
    http://www.rspb.org.uk/wildlife/birdguide/name/s/stormpetrel/index.aspx
  7. Sinclair, I. and Hockey, P. (2005) The Larger Illustrated Guide to Birds of Southern Africa. Struik Publishers, Cape Town, South Africa.