I never cease to marvel at the beauty of birds and their ability to cope with life. They are so supremely adapted and so diverse. Since the demise of dinosaurs some 60 million years ago birds, which descended from them, have evolved over tens of millions of years into thousands of species, conquering the skies and occupying every continent and ocean on earth. Pelagic birds have managed to adapt to life living at sea, only coming to land to breed. It is hard to envisage a more hostile environment for a bird to call home than a vast featureless ocean where there is no fresh water and no shelter from fierce storms.
And yet oceans are home to a large number of bird species including the very small and seemingly frail Storm-Petrels. These birds are about the size of a Willie Wagtail and weigh less than 60 grams and apart from visiting land to breed they spend their entire lives out at sea, far from land.
|A Wilson's Storm-Petrel - possibly the most numerous bird species on the planet, yet how many of us have seen one live?|
|A White-faced Storm-Petrel - like the Wilson's, small and dainty!|
Most Australians will know the Willie Wagtail but apart from seafarers and birders who venture out to sea looking for pelagic birds very few would have ever seen a live Storm-Petrel even though the Wilson’s Storm-Petrel may well be the most numerous bird species on the planet.
There are about 20 species of Storm-Petrel worldwide and about five species can be seen off the southern Australian coast. We saw both Wilson’s and White-faced Storm-Petrels off Lakes Entrance recently.
The Wilson’s Storm-Petrel breeds across the southern ocean in remote places such as Heard Island, Cape Horn, the Falklands and even along the Antarctic coastline. The White-faced breeds in warmer locations including on islands along the southern Australian coast with one colony breeding on Mud Island in Port Phillip Bay Victoria.
Storm-Petrels are swallow-like and have an effortless and weightless feeding style when they appear to dance or walk on water with wings outstretched and legs dangling as they bounce or patter over the surface picking up tiny food items.
We put out an oily fish burly trail to attract birds to the boat. The Wilson’s and White-faced Storm-Petrels worked their way up the trail towards the back of the anchored boat skipping erratically here and there picking up small pieces of fish as they approached. Unfortunately they were wary of the boat and often peeled off well short of camera range.
Here are a number of photos taken of the White-faced on the recent trip followed by photos of the Wilson’s, which were taken on an earlier trip (on the last trip out the Wilson’s would not come close enough for photos).
|A White-faced Storm-Petrel - they appear to dance or walk seemingly weightless on water as they feed.|
|At times they appear swallow like.|
|These small birds like other larger pelagic species are supremely adapted to life on our oceans.|
|Standing on water - the slightest breeze keeps them up as they pick up tiny food items.|
|A Wilson's Storm-Petrel looking dove like in this shot.|
|A typical walking on water feeding position - this bird has just picked up a tiny piece of fish from our burly trail.|
|This bird is picking up a larger piece of fish.|
Albatross, the subject of the next post in this pelagic series, are magnificent birds however I think I have developed a soft spot for the tiny Storm-Petrels!