European Storm-petrel (Hydrobates pelagicus)

European Storm-petrel

[order] PROCELLARIIFORMES | [family] Hydrobatidae | [latin] Hydrobates pelagicus | [authority] Linnaeus, 1758 | [UK] European Storm-petrel | [FR] Oceanite tempete | [DE] Sturmschwalbe | [ES] Paino Europeo | [NL] Stormvogeltje


Monotypic species


Storm-petrels are rather small and often dark colored tubenoses with a world wide distribution. All have fine black bills with very pronounced tubes. Storm Petrels are separated in two groups: the long legged, Southern Hemisphere birds subfamily Oceanitinae and the shorter legged species of more northern seas the subfamily Hydrobatinae. The first groups shows more morphological differences than the second. The genera are characterised on colour patterns, the condition of the nasal tubes, tail shape, structure of claws and proportions of the leg bones. The genus Hydrobates are small petrels; plumage black with white rump; tail square; tarsus scutelate in front, slightly longer than middle toe with claw and about half length of femur, claws narrow

Physical charateristics

The Storm Petrel is a small bird, only the size of a House MartinHouse Martin : Animalia : Chordata : Aves : Passeriformes : Hirundinidae Delichon urbica Binomial name Delichon urbica Linnaeus, 1758) The House Martin Delichon urbica is a migratory passerine of the family Hiruninidae. The European range of the House Mar, which it superficially resembles with its dark plumage and white rump. It has a fluttering flight, and patters on the water surface as it picks planktonPlankton is the aggregate community of weakly swimming but mostly drifting small organisms that inhabit the water column of the ocean, seas, and bodies of freshwater. The name comes from the Greek term, -meaning “wanderer” or “drifter”. While some forms oic food items from the ocean surface.

It can be distinguished from Leach’s Storm-petrelLeach’s Storm-petrel : Animalia : Chordata : Aves : Procellariiformes : Procellariidae Oceanodroma leucorhoa Binomial name Oceanodroma leucorhoa Vieillot, 1818) The Leach’s Storm-petrel or Leach’s Petrel Oceanodroma leucorhoa is a small seabird of the tub and Wilson’s Storm-petrelWilson’s Storm-petrel : Animalia : Chordata : Aves : Procellariiformes : Procellariidae Oceanites oceanicus Binomial name Oceanites oceanicus Kuhl, 1820 The Wilson’s Storm-petrel or Wilson’s Petrel Oceanites oceanicus is a small seabird of the storm-petre by its smaller size, different rump pattern and flight behaviour. It is strictly pelagic outside the breeding season, and this, together with its remote breeding sites, makes Storm Petrel a difficult bird to see from land. Only in Atlantic storms might this species be pushed into the headlands of south-western Ireland and England.

Listen to the sound of European Storm-petrel

[audio: Storm-petrel.mp3]

Copyright remark: Most sounds derived from xeno-canto

recorded by Dougie Preston

wingspan min.: 37 cm wingspan max.: 41 cm
size min.: 15 cm size max.: 16 cm
incubation min.: 38 days incubation max.: 50 days
fledging min.: 56 days fledging max.: 50 days
broods: 1   eggs min.: 1  
      eggs max.: 1  


Atlantic Ocean : Northeast. About 90% of the known breeding population is concentrated in the Faroe Islands (Denmark; 150,000-400,000 pairs), United Kingdom (20,000-150,000 pairs), Ireland (50,000-100,000 pairs) and Iceland (50,000-100,000 pairs), with smaller colonies in France (400-600 pairs), Greece (10-30 pairs), Italy (1,500-2,000 pairs), Malta (5,000 pairs), Norway (1,000-10,000 pairs), Spain (1,700-2,000 pairs) and a further 1,000 pairs on the Canary Islands, Spain. The species winters off western and southern Africa


Distinctively north-east Atlantic and west Mediterranean range within lowest 10 m band of airspace over pelagic, offshore, and to less extent inshore marine waters. Found especially in intermediate offshore and suboceanic zones between littoral and deep ocean, from 10 degrees C isotherm (barely overlapping subarctic) down to 25 degrees C isotherm; overlaps tropics in winter. Comes to land solely for breeding and by night only, on unsheltered and undisturbed islands, islets, or, more rarely, promontories of mainland.


Breeds in natural crevices, among boulders just above high water mark, under stones, and in fissures in rocks. Also in soil on flat ground, less often in hedge banks, stone walls, and old burrows of rabbit. Sometimes old or occupied burrows of Manx Shearwater and Puffin also used, occasionally sharing common entrance. Usually colonial, some pairs share common entrance hole, with separate chambers. Nest: tunnel 5-8 cm diameter, entrance a little smaller; 10 cm to 3 m or more long; shallow depression c. 7 cm diameter at end of tunnel. Usually no material, occasionally small pieces of grass, bracken, or seaweed; rarely built up into substantial nest. Incubation period lasts 38-50 days; periods of over 40 days usually indicate egg chilled during incubation. The chicks fledge in 56 to 86 days. Feeding visits by parents drop off towards fledging time; may be interval of up to 7 days between last feed and fledging. As with the other Procellariiformes, a single egg is laid by a pair in a breeding season, if the egg fails then usually no attempt is made to relay (although it happens rarely). Both sexes incubate in shifts of up to six days.

Feeding habits

Mainly surface crustaceans, small fish, medusae, cephalopods, and oily and fatty materials. Feeds during day from surface by pattering, hovering, and snatching without alighting; alone or in loose groups.

Video European Storm-petrel


copyright: P. Fraser


Although this species may have a restricted range, it is not believed to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the range size criterion (Extent of Occurrence <20,000 km2 combined with a declining or fluctuating range size, habitat extent/quality, or population size and a small number of locations or severe fragmentation). Despite the fact that the population trend appears to be decreasing, the decline is not believed to be sufficiently rapid to approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population trend criterion (>30% decline over ten years or three generations). The population size is extremely large, and hence does not approach the thresholds for Vulnerable under the population size criterion (<10,000 mature individuals with a continuing decline estimated to be >10% in ten years or three generations, or with a specified population structure). For these reasons the species is evaluated as Least Concern.
Hydrobates pelagicus has a large global population estimated to be 840,000 individuals. About 90% of the known breeding population is concentrated in the Faroe Islands (Denmark) (150,000-400,000 pairs), United Kingdom (20,000-150,000 pairs), Ireland (50,000-100,000 pairs) and Iceland (50,000-100,000 pairs), with smaller colonies in France (400-600 pairs), Greece (10-30 pairs), Italy (1,500-2,000 pairs), Malta (5,000 pairs), Norway (1,000-10,000 pairs), Spain (1,700-2,000 pairs) and a further 1,000 pairs on the Canary Islands (Spain). This species has a large range, with an estimated global breeding Extent of Occurrence of 50,000-100,000 km2. It nests on remote islands that are largely free of mammalian predators. The accidental introduction of such predators is the main threat to this species, particularly in southern Europe and the Mediterranean. In some areas, increases in numbers of skuas and large gulls appear to have increased the rate of predation. There may be some risk from eating contaminated food items or taking indisgestible matter but, by feeding in flight, the species is less vulnerable to oil spills than some other seabirds. The species winters off western and southern Africa.
European Storm-petrel status Least Concern


Migratory and dispersive. Restricted to east Atlantic and Mediterranean; winters in strength off South Africa. Main departures from British and Irish waters September-November; arrivals off west Africa from midNovember. Some occur in winter north to offshore Rio de Oro and Mauritania; most transequatorial migrants winter (December-April) in cool waters off Namibia and South Africa, some south to 38 degrees S. Substantial northward passage offshore from west Africa in March and April; April and May records from Cape seas and May ones in tropics probably mainly pre-breeders making more leisurely return towards colonies, which they visit after adults established there.

Distribution map

European Storm-petrel distribution range map


Title Ages of Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus prospecting potential breeding colonies
Author(s): J. David Okill and Mark Bolton
Abstract: Each year, ringers using sound lures mark and reca..[more]..
Source: Ringing & Migration (2005) 22, 205-208

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Title The timing and pattern of moult of flight feathers of European Storm-petrel Hydrobates pelagicus in Atlantic and Mediterranean breeding areas
Author(s): Beatriz Arroyo, Eduardo Mnguez, Luis Palomares & Jess Pinilla
Abstract: Aims: We describe the pattern and timing of moult ..[more]..
Source: Ardeola 51(2), 2004, 365-373

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Title Olfactory foraging strategies of procellariiform seabirds
Author(s): Gabrielle A. Nevitt
Abstract: The study of olfactory foraging ability in procell..[more]..
Source: Acta Zoologica Sinica 52(Supplement): 510-513, 2006

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Title Diet and foraging behaviour of the British Storm Petrel Hydrobates pelagicus in the Bay of Biscay during summer.
Author(s): D Elbee J. & Hemery G.
Abstract: The diet and the foraging behaviour of the British..[more]..
Source: ARDEA 86 (1): 1-10.

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Title Population size estimation and metapopulation relationships of Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus in the Gulf of Biscay.
Author(s): Iigo Zuberogoitia, Ainara Azkona et al.
Abstract: Storm Petrels Hydrobates pelagicus are notoriously..[more]..
Source: Ringing & Migration (2007) 23, 252-254

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