Procellariidae – Shearwaters & petrels

Never getting sea-sick, they enjoy long voyages giving award-winning performances in the ocean

Encompassing a diverse range of pelagic birds known as petrels and shearwaters. These birds, equipped with tube-shaped nostrils—an adaptation that has earned them the moniker “tubenoses”—are supremely adapted to the marine environment.

Ranging in size from the petite storm petrels to the imposing giant petrels, these species exhibit a variety of sizes that are complemented by their long, narrow, and pointed wings. These wing characteristics are essential for their highly efficient flight style, which allows them to travel great distances over the ocean with minimal energy expenditure. Though smaller than their wings, their tails assist with maneuverability and flight stability.

The Procellariidae are predominantly oceanic birds, spending most of their life at sea, where they forage for food. They exhibit remarkable flying skills, capable of utilizing the dynamic energy of the wind and waves to glide, hover, and even shear the wave crests—hence the name “shearwaters.” These birds are rarely seen on land, except during breeding when they visit remote islands and coastal cliffs at night to avoid predators.

The placement of their legs towards the rear of their body is a distinct adaptation that favors their life at sea, optimizing their ability to swim and maneuver in water. However, this adaptation makes their movement on land awkward, resulting in a characteristic hopping or shuffling gait when they do come ashore.

These birds are often observed performing acrobatic feats in the air, dancing with the wind and waves. Their ability to read the ocean’s nuanced patterns allows them to locate schools of fish and squid, which constitute their primary diet.

The breeding habits of the Procellariidae are unique in that many species return to the same nesting site year after year. They often breed in colonies, laying a single egg in burrows or crevices, which is incubated by both parents.