WILSON’S STORM PETREL – (Oceanites oceanicus)
The Wilson’s Storm Petrel (or simply Wilson’s Petreo) is a small pelagic (lives on the open ocean) seabird that only comes to land when breeding, or when pushed inland following storms (hence the name). This bird measures approximately 18 cm (7 in.) long, and is dark brown overall with a white rump and white secondaries on the upper wing. The bill, eyes, legs and webbed feet are black, except for the webbing, which is yellow in this species.
Petrels are part of an order of birds that includes seabirds with a ‘tubenose’ bill. This highly specialized bill is made of plates and the nostrils are inside one of them in the shape of a ‘tube’. These birds drink seawater, and they have glands in their bill to extract the salt from the water. Their nostrils also have a self-defensive feature – when threatened they can spit out a foul-smelling oil from that organ. Petrels also have a high sense of olfaction and their bill is equipped to detect food sources near the water surface.
The name ‘Petrel’ refers to St. Peter walking on the water, because this bird seems to ‘walk’ on the water when feeding. The English name Wilson’s was given to this bird in honor of Scottish-American ornithologist Alexander Wilson.
The Latin genus name ‘Oceanites’ is from Greek mythology and stands for ‘sea nymphs’, in reference to the habitat of this species. The species name ‘oceanicus’ means the same thing.
Wilson’s storm petrels feed on the water surface by hopping and fluttering their wings, and rarely dive. Their prey is mainly zooplancton. They feed in flocks and will follow ships. They are usually found where ocean currents meet, bringing sources of food to the surface.
This species nests in colonies and the nest is built in a chamber at the end of a burrow, or in a rock crevice. The nests are only visited at night to prevent predation, and the parents may even avoid visiting on clear moonlit nights.
The Wilson’s storm petrel does not breed on PEI, and sightings of this seabird on or around the island have been noted as ‘uncommon’ in the summer and fall. Its overall range encompasses all the oceans starting from the northern mid-latitudes down south to around Antarctica. This storm petrel breeds along the coasts of Antarctica and nearby islands.