Black Storm-Petrel

Oceanodroma melania

Order:
Procellariiformes
Family:
Hydrobatidae
Sections

Breeding

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Figure 2. Annual cycle of breeding, molt, and migration of the Black Storm-Petrel.

Nesting cycle is advanced in the Gulf of California. Compared to adults (shown), molt is advanced several weeks in subadults. The period of dispersal shown here includes both sub-adults and adults, the former dispersing a month or so earlier. Thick lines show peak activity; thin lines, off-peak.

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Black Storm-Petrel nesting island: Isla Coronado (Middle Rock), at Islas Coronado.
© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 22 July 1989
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Black Storm-Petrel nest site.

Most typical nest sites are in a crevice, under a large boulder, or in a fissure or crack between slabs of rock; occasionally in a pre-existing burrow.

© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 22 July 1989
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Black Storm-Petrel chick.

Protoptyle (first down) is dark gray and continues to grow for the first few weeks.

© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 22 July 1989

Phenology

Pair Formation

Occurs at the colony, but unobserved in storm-petrels, owing to their nocturnal habits. Species absent from vicinity of nesting islands during autumn and early winter (see Migration: Timing and Routes of Migration). First visits to nesting colonies apparently occurs later in the season with increasing latitude: late January at Roca Consag (Gulf of California; 31), mid-April at Islas Coronado (1), and late April at Santa Barbara Island (45). Prelaying period is short, < 1 mo (Figure 2).

Nest-Building

None made. Nesting chambers arranged (minimum digging) soon after arrival.

First/Only Brood Per Season

At Islas Coronado, egg-laying occurs from mid-May (earliest 12 May) to first week of August, with majority of eggs laid before mid-June (1; Figure 2). Latest egg date 5 September (73). At Islas Coronado, first chicks noted 23–24 June during a 2-year study; chicks fledge beginning last days of August to mid-October (1). Evidence indicates departure as late as mid-November at Santa Barbara Island (45). At Islas San Benito, hatching period spans from late-July to early-September (earliest 16 July, latest 7 September); chicks fledge mid-October to late November (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, B. E. Lavaniegos and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Second/Later Broods

No second brood.

Nest Site

Selection Process

Competition for nest sites likely influences timing of breeding. Throughout its range similar if not identical breeding locations are also used for nesting by Scripps's Murrelet (Synthliboramphus scrippsi), Guadalupe Murrelet (S. hypoleucus), Craveri's Murrelet (S. craveri), and Cassin’s Auklet (Ptychoramphus aleuticus). These larger species can easily evict smaller storm-petrels. In three instances on Islas Coronado (82), a single nest site was first occupied in February 1989 by a Scripps's Murrelet, which fledged its precocious young soon after hatching. The site was then occupied by a Cassin’s Auklet pair, after which the site was used by a Black Storm-Petrel. Following fledging, the site was then used in late summer by the smaller Leach’s Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma leucorhoa) or Ashy Storm-Petrel (O. homochroa). The use of the same site by two species during the same year is not uncommon; some nest sites were occupied up to 9 months of the year (82; W. Everett, personal observation).

DeWeese and Anderson (85) listed at least 16 known breeding locations in the Gulf of California for Craveri's Murrelet. Since that species breeds early in the year and the young depart the nest only a few days after hatching, it appears that Black Storm-Petrel, which occupies similar sites, would later in the season occupy some of those same nest sites.

Microhabitat; Site Characteristics

Most typical nest sites in a crevice, under a large boulder, or in a fissure or crack between slabs of rock; occasionally in a burrow. The latter type of site originally excavated by larger, stronger species, such as Cassin's Auklet (80, 81, 43, 20). On only a few occasions has an adult Black Storm-Petrel, with chick, been found in an entirely soft-soil burrow (33, YBG).

Nest

Construction Process

There is no evidence to indicate that any vegetation or other material is used to line nests; no depression is excavated to hold eggs. No evidence indicates that this species digs new sites, but the annual deposition of fine soil at the entrances to most nest sites during the pre-egg period suggests these storm-petrels regularly refurbish their nests, removing accumulated dirt and debris (1).

Any digging would be done using the feet, scratching backward (e.g., 86). Excavation could occur whenever adults are present in the nest, mostly at night but occasionally during day.

Dimensions

Nesting cavities can be several meters deep (usually > 20 cm), horizontally into the slope, depending on nature of talus and rock-fall substrate. At a minimum, cavity diameter is that which accommodates a Black Storm-Petrel and excludes larger species; i.e., about 4–5 cm. Larger cavities may be used where or when other larger burrowing species do not compete for access; e.g., Black-vented Shearwater (Puffinus opisthomelas), Cassin's Auklet, or Craveri's and Scripps’s murrelets, which may have bred earlier in the season.

Microclimate

There is no evidence that wind exposure or slope affects choice of nesting area (1). Nest chambers offer little insulating value, other than reducing wind chill.

Maintenance or Reuse of Nests, Alternate Nests

Pairs reuse nests year after year. On Islas Coronado, of 56 adults banded in nests during 1 year, at least 24 adults used the same nest in the following year (recaptures not attempted in all nests); only 1 banded bird was known to change nest sites, that being an individual whose nest was usurped by a Cassin's Auklet (1). On Islas San Benito, of 151 adults banded during 3 years, at least 43 adults returned to the same nest (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Nonbreeding Nests

Many subadults and adults visit colonies and occupy nest cavities without laying eggs.

Eggs

Shape

Elliptical and subelliptical (18); oval with slight tendency toward elliptical oval (73).

Size

Average 36.6 × 26.7 mm; extreme measurements: 38.5 × 25.0 mm, 36.5 × 27.5 mm, 32.5 × 24.2 mm (n = 61, most likely from Islas Coronado; 73). At Islas San Benito (n = 62), average 35.3 × 25.8 mm; extreme measurements: 39.2 × 27.3 mm, 32.6 × 23.9 mm (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Mass

At Islas San Benito (n = 62, 2012–2014), mean 11.4 g, minimum 8.9 g, maximum 13.6 g (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Color

Dull white, usually dirty; some show “faint suspicion of fine lavender or reddish dots about larger end” (73).

Surface Texture

Smooth and lusterless (73).

Eggshell Thickness

No data. See Conservation and Management: Management.

Clutch Size

One egg/clutch; 1 clutch/year (73, 1). In an unknown proportion of cases among other storm-petrels, replacement egg laid if first egg lost (e.g., 2, 3).

Egg-Laying

Given the difficult access to the nesting cavity by humans, nothing is known about the nature of egg-laying. In Procellariiformes, females characteristically remain away from nests during the egg-formation period, returning just before laying the egg (76). Replacement eggs are suspected to occur rarely in storm-petrels, including this species (1). Egg-removal experiments in the Leach's Storm-Petrel have confirmed that replacement eggs do occur in this avian family, on the order of 10–20 d after first egg is lost (3).

Incubation

Onset of Broodiness and Incubation in Relation to Laying

Little known for this species. For a short period after preparing nest site, and before laying, both members of pair remain together in nest chamber during the day from time to time (43).

Incubation Patch

One on the belly; both sexes. Belly can become unfeathered in storm-petrels, even among females that do not have eggs (79). Therefore, it is difficult to distinguish breeders from nonbreeders on the basis of brood patch presence.

Incubation Period

Little information available. At Islas Coronado, 1 egg hatched in 40 d, another hatched in 53 d, and the third hatched in 45–50 d (1); range similar to that of Ashy Storm-Petrel (2).

Parental Behavior

Both sexes brood and feed chick, likely equally, but not known for sure.

Hardiness of Eggs Against Temperature Stress; Effect of Egg Neglect

Egg neglect is common among this and other storm-petrel species (cf. 87, 2). Eggs are often left unattended for 1–2 d at a time, sometimes repeatedly during incubation but usually in first week or so (1). Number of days left unattended adds to length of incubation period (1).

Hatching

Limited data. Some observations exist for other storm-petrel species, and are assumed to be similar (e.g., 2, 3).

Preliminary events

Vocalizations within egg may start at least 2 d before hatching (YBG).

Hatching Success

Hatching success (chicks hatched/eggs laid) at Isla San Benito Oeste from 2012–2014 ranged from 72% to 82% (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Young Birds

Condition at Hatching

One hatchling from Islas Coronado, weighed 17.0 g (tarsus length 15.8 mm; 1). At Islas San Benito, 16 hatchlings showed the following mean measures: weigh 9.4 g (range 7.4–11.5 g), tarsus length 12.4 mm (range 11.5–13.1 mm), wing length 12.1 mm (range 8.0–14.0 mm), bill length 8.7 mm (range 7.7–9.6 mm) (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data). Chicks nidicolous (incapable of moving, confined to nest) for the first few weeks. Protoptyle (first down) is dark gray and continues to grow for the first few weeks. According to Bent (73: 157), “the chin, throat and malar region are naked, but the bird is elsewhere covered with long soft down, which is uniform ‘fuscous' in color, darker basally.” An egg tooth, present at hatching, persists for most of the growth period.

Growth and Development

As noted by Everett (1), first Juvenile feathers to appear are the remiges and then the rectrices, which begin to emerge from sheaths about 6 weeks after hatching. Up to this point, chick is experiencing rapid gains in body mass and development of bones (Figure 5). First contour feathers emerge on the back and crown starting between sixth and eighth weeks, during which time wings grow rapidly. Contour feathers are a continuation of the mesoptyle, which remains attached to tip of Juvenile feathers, but soon wear off as they emerge. Breast-feathers sprout next, and contour-feather development progresses toward vent. By weeks 9 and 10, chicks usually fully feathered, except for traces of down remaining on vent and hindneck.

Body mass generally increases rapidly during first 4 weeks after hatching, then rate slows until a peak, equivalent to about 120–150% of mean adult mass, is achieved during ninth week (Figure 5). Mass then decreases rapidly for next 2–3 weeks, as chick nears fledging. At fledging, mass is same or slightly less than that of adult.

Culmen and tarsometatarsus show typical growth curves, with initial positive acceleration to about week 7. At about this point, remiges emerge from their sheaths and begin rapid development. This high rate of flight-feather and tail-feather growth continues until chicks are ready to fledge.

In the linear phase of the growth curve, mean wing growth is about 2.8 mm/d, tarsometatarsus growth is 0.5 mm/d and tail growth 2 mm/d (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, B. E. Lavaniegos and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Older chicks become mobile and wander within confines of their nest site. This tendency increases as fledging nears. Near to fledging, chicks often emerge at night to flap wings.

Parental Care

Brooding

Newly hatched chicks are typically brooded for the first several days: 15 of 18 chicks (83.4%) weighing < 23 g were brooded; chicks > 23 g never brooded (1).

Feeding

Both parents feed by regurgitating partly or fully digested prey or oil into chick (e.g., 73). See Warham (76) for discussion of stomach oil in Procellariiformes.

Chick provisioning parameters may vary among years. Mean feed size (estimated by changes in daily body weights) in chicks older than 14 d at Islas San Benito ranged from 7.6 g to 8.0 g, feeding rate from 5.1 g/night to 6.0 g/night, and the interval to the next feeding from 1.3 d to 1.5 d during breeding seasons 2012–2014. Feeding rates influence chick growth, chicks receiving more food per night reach higher peak mass, show faster tail growth rates and attain higher body mass and longer wings and tails at fledging (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, B. E. Lavaniegos and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data).

Nest Sanitation

Chicks defecate away from nest chamber; soil usually absorbs feces.

Cooperative Breeding

None.

Brood Parasitism

None.

Fledgling Stage

Departure From Nest

Fledges at 11–12 wk (1). First chicks to hatch depart Islas Coronado late August–early September (Figure 2); last ones probably October. At Islas San Benito, mean age of fledging about 80 d (range 72–93), earliest chicks depart late September and latest 28 November (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, B. E. Lavaniegos and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data). Fledglings fully feathered; feathers fully grown. A few tufts of down may remain.

Departure most often during first few hours after onset of darkness.

Growth

Measurements of pre-fledglings at Islas San Benito varied annually: body mass 59–67 g; wing length 170–178 mm; tarsometatarsus length 32.1–32.8 mm; and tail length 82–88 mm (Y. Bedolla-Guzmán, J. F. Masello, A. Aguirre-Muñoz, B. E. Lavaniegos and P. Quillfeldt, unpublished data). No postfledging growth known.

Association with Parents; Ability to Get Around, Feed, and Care for Self

Upon departure, fledglings independent of parents.

Immature Stage

No information. In other storm-petrel species, first breeding typically occurs at 5 years of age, with earliest breeding at 3 years of age (e.g., 3).

Recommended Citation

Everett, W. T., Y. R. Bedolla-Guzmán, and D. G. Ainley (2019). Black Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma melania), version 2.0. In The Birds of North America (P. G. Rodewald, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. https://doi.org/10.2173/bna.bkspet.02