Under Cover of Night

On a birding trip to Newfoundland:

Here’s a bird that’s hard to see in Newfoundland even though 3 million pairs of them nest on Baccalieu Island and another 620,000 pairs at Witless Bay.

Leach’s storm-petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) spends its life at sea and only returns to land under cover of darkness to nest in well-concealed burrows and rock crevices.  Because of this I probably won’t see one. Our tour isn’t making a pelagic trip.

Even so, I’ve learned some amazing things about this bird, illustrated in three videos.

Leach’s storm-petrels eat plankton and lanternfish from the ocean surface, flying and feeding in conditions that would make us seasick. In the video above, notice that the bird sometimes puts its feet down and walks on water.

The birds also feed at night because they see lanternfish glowing in the dark!  Learn about lanternfish below.

Unfortunately, the storm-petrel’s attraction to night lights is its undoing near human light sources.


Though Leach’s storm-petrels don’t nest on Bermuda, one made itself at home for a while in the burrow monitored by the Bermuda petrel Cahow Cam.  This is probably what it looks like when a Leach’s storm-petrel is at its nest. 


Leach’s storm-petrels live a long time for their size — 20 to 36 years.  They don’t breed until they are four years old and then produce only one egg per year.  For a very long time this lifestyle was enough to sustain the population and the bird was considered safe from threat of extinction.

Then in 2016 Leach’s storm-petrel suddenly jumped from Least Concern to Vulnerable, from green to yellow in the IUCN Red List chart below.  Click here to read why.

graphic of IUCN Threat Assessment Categories
graphic of IUCN Threat Assessment Categories

Knowing that Leach’s storm-petrel could disappear makes it even more desirable to see one.

Since Newfoundland hosts almost half of the world’s population of nesting Leach’s storm-petrels (3.62+ million pairs), I stand a good chance of seeing one … if I could see at night.


UPDATE, now that I’m here: Yesterday as Hurricane Chris approached Newfoundland we drove from the southern shore of the Avalon Peninsula, where it was due to hit, to Clarenville.  Along the way we stopped at St. Vincent’s Beach where we saw a lot of bird activity. As we were driving away one of our group saw a flock of birds on the calm inlet water. 128 Leach’s storm-petrels!  Woo hoo! Life bird for everyone!  What  a great look at a seabird and we weren’t on a bouncing boat!


(videos from YouTube; click on the videos to see the originals. chart of IUCN threat assessment categories from iucn.org)

Day 6, July 13: Terra Nova National Park

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