Bird Database

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

(Oceanites oceanicus)

State of the Birds
At a Glance



Long distance (breeds in Southern Hemisphere)





Conservation Actions

None identifified

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel

(Oceanites oceanicus)

The Gulf of Maine is home to several pelagic seabirds, defined as species of the open ocean that are rarely seen from land. The smallest and most common of these is the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel, a bird the size of a bluebird with a global population estimated at over ten million. Wilson’s Storm-Petrels nest entirely in the southern hemisphere, both on subantarctic islands and the shoreline of Antarctica itself, and disperse at sea during their non-breeding season from April to November. They are most common in the Gulf of Maine from late May into September, when observers on whale watches or fishing boats stand a good chance of seeing them pattering across the water’s surface.

This pattering is one of the diagnostic behaviors of storm-petrels. They fly within inches of the ocean and repeatedly dip down to touch it with their feet. This presumably attracts prey to the surface or causes them to move, whereupon the storm-petrel reaches down with its beak to pluck them from the water. Their diet consists primarily of plankton (e.g., krill) and small fish. Wilson’s Storm-Petrels are often seen following boats and in the vicinity of feeding whales, presumably because prey are brought to the surface by these large objects disturbing the water.

There is much maritime lore related to storm-petrels, and certainly their apparent lack of concern in the face of stormy seas has captivated sailors for centuries. In some lore they are believed to herald the approach of a storm (hence the name) and in other cases they were believed to carry the souls of drowned seamen and considered bad luck to kill. They have also collected several alternate names, from the affectionate “stormies” to the enigmatic “Mother Carey’s Chickens,” the origin of which is largely unknown.

Seasonal Abundance

Relative abundance based on eBird data. Numbers indicate likelihood of finding this species in suitable habitat at a given time of year, not actual numbers encountered.

Wilson’s Storm-Petrel
Range Map

Information for the species profiles on this website was compiled from a combination of the sources listed below.

  • The Birds of New Hampshire. By Allan R. Keith and Robert B. Fox. 2013. Memoirs of the Nuttall Ornithological club No. 19.

  • Atlas of the Breeding Birds of New Hampshire. Carol R. Foss, ed. 1994. Arcadia Publishing Company and Audubon Society of New Hampshire

  • Birds of the World. Various authors and dates. Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology.

  • Data from the Breeding Bird Survey

  • Data from the Christmas Bird Count