SHEARWATERS, PETRELS, AND FULMARS FACTS
Procellariids (members of the family Procellariidae) have hooked bills that assist them in handling slippery food. The tubular (tube-shaped) nostrils are credited with the birds’ welldeveloped sense of smell used for locating food from far away as well as nests in the dark.
These birds range from 9.1 to 11 inches (23 to 28 centimeters) to 31.9 to 39 inches (81 to 99 centimeters), depending on the species. Wingspans measure about 6.6 feet (2 meters). Procellariids are covered in white, blue, gray, brown, and black feathers. Unlike other wildlife, coloration does not vary by sex or season.
Because their legs are rather weak, procellariids are generally awkward on land. They do not actually walk, but rather shuffle on their breasts and wings. The exception to this is the giant petrel, whose legs are strong.
Procellariids live on oceans throughout the world, in the Northern and Southern Hemispheres.
SHEARWATERS, PETRELS, AND FULMARS HABITAT
Procellariids live almost exclusively on the ocean, coming to shore only to breed.
SHEARWATERS, PETRELS, AND FULMARS DIET
These nocturnal, active at night, birds eat squid, plankton, and marine life that has been discarded from fishing vessels. Giant petrels also eat seal and penguin carcasses.
BEHAVIOR AND REPRODUCTION
Procellariids excel at flying, with equal ability to flap as well as soar, which makes finding and catching food easy. Shearwaters are named for their tendency to glide just over the water’s surface.
Like other Procellariiformes, procellariids vomit their smelly stomach oil onto enemies. This defense mechanism is used against predators during breeding season and against humans who get too close.
Procellariids breed in locations near seawater. Although many species gather together to form breeding colonies, others breed alone or in much smaller colonies. Their nests are made of mounds of grass and stones or in the crevices of rock ledges, depending on the location and what building material is available. Still other nesters burrow into the ground or use abandoned rabbit dens as home for their egg.
At the time of its first breeding the procellariid is usually around five or six years old. One egg is laid, and both parents take turns sitting on it in shifts lasting two to fourteen days. This goes on for six to nine weeks, depending on the species, and then the egg hatches. Parents care for the chick but leave it as soon as it is able to control its own body temperature, which is anywhere from two to twenty days after birth. At that time, parents visit the chick only at feeding time. A week or two after the parents leave, the chick heads out to sea.
These birds live for an average of fifteen to twenty years, though one is on record as living to the age of fifty.
SHEARWATERS, PETRELS, AND FULMARS AND PEOPLE Procellariid eggs and meat are eaten by people in a number of cultures, including Eskimos and Europeans. Every year several thousand chicks are harvested for their feathers, fat, flesh, oil, and down in New Zealand and Tasmania.
Some procellariid populations are thriving, but others are among the most threatened birds in the world. Forty-seven procellariids are on the World Conservation Union’s (IUCN) List of Threatened Species. All are Threatened, facing a high to extremely high risk of extinction, or Near Threatened, in danger of becoming threatened. These species are considered threatened because of habitat deterioration as well as introduced, brought in by humans, predators.