Tuesday, 9 October 2012

European storm-petrel

Hydrobates pelagicus

Photo by Armando Caldas (Flickr)

Common name:
European storm-petrel (en); alma-de-mestre (pt); océanite tempête (fr); paíño europeo (es)sturmschwalbe (de)

Order Procellariiformes
Family Hydrobatidae

This species breeds on inaccessible islands in the north Atlantic and western Mediterranean, from iceland, through the Faroe islands and the British isles and into Iberia and as far east as Malta. They also breed in the Canary islands. Outside the breeding season they move to the waters along the southern parts of their breeding range and may also go further south along the African coast as far as Namibia and South Africa.

These birds are 15-16 cm long and have a wingspan of 37-42 cm. They weigh 20-30 g.

The European storm-petrel spends most of its life in the open sea, but also forages along coastal waters. They only visit land to breed, which takes place in rocky offshore islands with no mammalian predators.

They hunt on the wing, just dipping their bill in the water to catch submerged prey such as planktonic lifeforms, small fishes, crustaceans, squids and  jellyfish. They are also known to follow in the wake of fishing ships to pick up discards and sometimes eat whale faeces.

European storm-petrels are monogamous and mate for life. They breed in May-August and form breeding colonies, with each pair nesting in a rock crevice or burrow. There the female lays a single white egg which is incubated by both parents for 38-50 days. The chicks is fed by both parents and fledges about 50 days after hatching. They only reach sexual maturity at 4-5 years of age.

IUCN status - LC (Least Concern)
This species has a restricted breeding range and a global population estimated at 1,2-1,5 million individuals. The population is suspected to be in decline owing to predation by invasive species, pollution and development of breeding sites. Also, in some areas increases in numbers of skuas and large gulls appear to have increased the rate of predation.

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