Hydrobatidae – Northern storm-petrels

World's smallest seabirds can walk better on the water than on the land

Meet the world’s smallest seabirds found in tropical and temperate oceans worldwide. With their agile nature and small size, these birds can blend in with the open ocean and rocky landscapes where they nest. Their plumage is typically a mix of black, brown, or white feathers.

A striking anatomical feature of storm petrels is their tubular nostrils, which are situated atop their beaks and are believed to enhance their sense of smell—an unusual trait among birds. This adaptation is beneficial for locating food sources over the vast and featureless ocean. Additionally, their long, pointed wings are perfectly adapted for a life spent mostly on the wing, providing the necessary aerodynamics for gliding and maneuvering above the water’s surface.

Storm petrels exhibit a remarkable oceanic existence, spending the majority of their lives at sea. They are rarely seen on land, venturing to solid ground primarily for breeding purposes. Their life on the ocean is so extensive that their legs have become less adapted for walking, and they are somewhat awkward on land. Despite this, they are expert fliers capable of skimming the ocean’s surface to pick up food, which consists mainly of planktonic crustaceans, small fish, and squid.

When it comes to nesting, these birds often select remote islands free of land predators. Here, they can lay their eggs in burrows or crevices, which offers protection for their young. The remoteness of their nesting sites is a crucial defense mechanism as storm petrels are vulnerable to predation by introduced species such as rats and cats. Unfortunately, their inability to effectively deal with such predators can lead to devastating consequences for petrel populations.