Diving-petrels are small, tubenosed seabirds that dive and swim to catch their food. They weight 4 to 8 ounces (120 to 220 grams) and are 7 to 10 inches (18 to 25 centimeters) long. Unlike other tubenoses, the tube-like nostrils of the diving-petrel project upward rather than forward. Scientists believe this is an adaptation, change over time, to diving. The bill is short and wide, with a slight hook at the tip. The short wings are used as flippers to help move the bird forward. Feathers are bluish-gray or black with white on the underside. When the birds molt, shed their feathers, they are unable to fly until new feathers grow in.
Diving-petrels live in the waters of the Southern Hemisphere. Although they prefer shallow coastal waters, they have been sighted offshore as well.
Peruvian and Magellan diving-petrels live in South American waters, while the common and South Georgian species are circumpolar, living at both the North and South Poles.
Diving-petrels prefer the colder temperatures of the ocean waters. They breed on oceanic islands and do not stray far from breeding sites.
Diving-petrels get their name from their habit of diving for their food, mainly small fish and crustaceans such as crabs and shrimp. They use their wings to propel themselves under water toward their food. Once their prey is caught, the diving-petrels use their wings to push themselves toward the waters’ surface and directly back into the air.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Diving-petrels are the only tubenoses that dive into the water to catch food. They typically fly low and fast over the water, and in stormy weather, often fly right into the crests of waves rather than fly over them. These birds are social, eating and breeding in herds and colonies. They come to land only to breed.
Diving-petrels nest in burrows, holes, or in the crevices of rocks. The female lays one egg that incubates, warms, for eight weeks. Both parents take turns sitting on the egg, usually for day-long periods. Eggs are laid between July and December, and newborn chicks are watched closely for the first two weeks of life. The chick will make its first flight around eight weeks, and at that time, begins to take care of itself.
Diving-petrels molt after the breeding season is over, and until their flight feathers grow back, they are flightless.
DIVING-PETRELS AND PEOPLE
Diving-petrels and people do not interact. The birds do attract birdwatchers, so they benefit marine ecotourism, travel in order to study wildlife and the environment.
Except for the Peruvian diving-petrel, these birds are not threatened. The Peruvian diving-petrel is Endangered, facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild, due to excessive hunting and habitat destruction.