Black Storm-Petrel

Oceanodroma melania


Distribution, Migration, and Habitat

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Figure 1. Distribution of the Black Storm-Petrel along the coast of California and Middle America.

Marine range of Black Storm-Petrel; northward extension mainly during autumn, southward extension mainly late autumn and winter. Mostly vacant from Gulf of California and vicinity during autumn. See Figure 3 for detailed breeding range.

eBird range map for Black Storm-Petrel

Generated from eBird observations (Year-Round, 1900-present)

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.

Figure 3. Distribution of Black Storm-Petrel nesting colonies.

Locations of confirmed Black Storm-Petrel nesting colonies.(1—Santa Barbara Island and Sutil Island; 2—Islas Coronado; 3—Islas San Benito; 4—Islas Cardinosa and Cardinosita (= Partida); 5—Islas San Luis; 6—Roca Consag; 7—Isla San Esteban; 8—La Lobera and Isla Partida at Isla Espíritu Santo.

Example of Black Storm-Petrel breeding habitat: Islas San Benito.

Isla San Benito Oeste (Foreground), Isla Sa Benito Medio (Left), Isla San Benito Este (Center), Isla Cedros (Background).

© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 12 April 1981
Example of Black Storm-Petrel breeding habitat: Islas Coronado.

Isla Coronado Norte from Isla Coronado (Middle Rock).

© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 12 April 1989
Example of Black Storm-Petrel breeding habitat: Isla Coronado (Middle Rock), at Islas Coronado.
© William Everett , Baja California , Mexico , 22 July 1989

Distribution in the Americas

Breeding Range

Nests on islands of southern California (United States) and Baja California (Mexico); see Figure 1 and Figure 3. Likely has been extirpated, along with other burrowing seabirds, from a number of islands within current range as a result of predation by introduced mammals (see Behavior: Predation). Breeding population is currently centered at Islas San Benito (central Baja California), where large numbers nest (see Demography and Populations: Population Status). In southern California, confirmed breeding on Santa Barbara Island and the offshore rock Sutil Island; possible breeder on other California Channel Islands, where individuals captured in mist-nets or found dead during nesting season including Prince Island, Anacapa Island, and San Clemente Island (43, 44, 45, 46). In Baja California, Mexico, Pacific coast, definitely breeding; Islas San Benito (all 3 islands), Islas Coronado (all except Isla Coronado Sur); 47, 48, 49) and Gulf of California, confirmed breeding on Roca Consag off San Felipe, Isla Cardonosa, and Isla Cardonosita (= Partida Norte), Islas San Luis, Isla San Esteban, and La Lobera and Isla Partida at Archipiélago Espíritu Santo (47, 49, 50). Also, individuals have recently been captured in mist-nets at Isla San Martín and Isla San Jerónimo during breeding season (Grupo de Ecología y Conservación de Islas, A. C., unpublished data), indicating possible breeding at these Pacific coast locations. May breed in very small numbers on many more islands in the Gulf of California (B. Tershy, personal communication). Unconfirmed breeding at Islas Marías, Nayarit (51); occurs in the vicinity of, but not specifically mentioned as breeding there by Nelson (52). See Demography and Populations: Population Status.

Marine Range

Occurs northward in numbers in warm waters along the coast to 39°N off northern California, south to 15°S off southern Peru, including Gulf of California, Gulf of Panama, and Gulf of Guayaquil (20, 8, 53, 54, 10, 55, 7; Figure 1). Frequents waters of the shelf, shelf break, and continental slope (considering all habitats, 100–3,000 m deep). Present in northern part of range late spring to winter, mainly autumn (August–November); highest numbers when warm waters occur farther north than usual in the California Current (e.g., El Niño; 56, 57, 58, 59). Northernmost verified record, Clatsop County, Oregon, during El Niño 1983 (60; R. Bayer, R. W. Campbell, T. R. Wahl, personal communication). Present in southern part of marine range mainly autumn (boreal) to late spring (7). Disperses farthest southward also during warm-water periods (88). Pronounced movement into Gulf of Panama in November, remaining until June (30); however, densities to the north and south are higher than off Central America (7). Common in vicinity of Middle American Trench, off southern Mexico, during spring (61). See Distribution, Migration, and Habitat: Habitat in the Marine Range and Distribution, Migration, and Habitat: Nature of Migration.

Other Records

Black Storm-Petrels may occur well inland after hurricanes (e.g., Salton Sea, California; also Arizona; 62, 63).

Distribution Outside the Americas

Does not occur

Nature of Migration

Individuals vacate breeding islands in the fall and return to same islands, and nesting burrows, the next spring (see Breeding: Phenology).

Timing and Routes of Migration

Postbreeding movement occurs north to waters off northern Baja California (Mexico) and central California (United States), and south to waters off Central America and northern South America (7). Movement north precedes that to the south; whether the same birds are involved is unknown (see Distribution, Migration, and Habitat: Distribution in the Americas: Marine Range). Dispersal north and south from center of breeding range may be a strategy to avoid numerous hurricanes that move northeastward from tropical eastern Pacific waters and come ashore between Cabo San Lucas, Baja California, and central Mexico during late summer and autumn. Such fast-moving storms are dangerous to slow-flying seabird species, especially those trapped within the Gulf of California (see Distribution, Migration, and Habitat: Distribution in the Americas). This bifurcated migration is characteristic of many seabird species that nest along coasts of Baja California (e.g., Black-vented Shearwater [Puffinus opisthomelas], Brown Pelican [Pelecanus occidentalis], Elegant Tern [Thalasseus elegans]; other species also vacate the Gulf of California, but disperse northward (e.g., Heermann's Gull [Larus heermanni], Craveri's Murrelet (Synthliboramphus craveri).

Migratory Behavior

No information.

Control and Physiology of Migration

No information.

Habitat in Breeding Range

The Black Storm-Petrel breeds on small rocky islands or talus slopes of larger islands from the beach (3 m from high-tide line) to well inland (1). It nests in clefts and cavities among and under rocks, and favors sloping terrain. Breeding islands are not mountainous (i.e., exhibiting multiple life zones), nor large enough to sustain communities of prey that would satisfy predatory mammals year-round (44). In some cases, Black Storm-Petrels are relegated by endemic or introduced predators to precipitous portions of larger islands (e.g., Santa Barbara Island; 44). The species may have been extirpated from larger islands to which house cats (Felis catus) and rats (Rattus sp.) have been introduced (e.g., Isla Cedros; 48, 49, 64).

Practically all nesting islands in Gulf of California as well as Islas San Benito (Pacific coast, Baja California) are shared with Least Storm-Petrel (Oceanodroma microsoma); in fact, the two species share nesting cavities, the Black Storm-Petrel taking the larger chambers (48, DGA, YBG). Off southern California, Islas Coronado and perhaps some of the Channel Islands cavities are shared with Ashy Storm-Petrel (O. homochroa). As do these smaller species (see 2), the Black Storm-Petrel rarely excavates its own nesting cavities (43, 30, 1; see Breeding: Nest Site).

Habitat in the Marine Range

Spends most of its time at sea, visiting land only to breed. At the large-scale (regional) perspective, frequents subtropical to tropical waters, 13–24 °C, or waters warmer than those frequented by the other large, all-dark Pacific storm-petrels (8, 18, 30). Prevalence decreases markedly when sea temperatures > 24 °C; increases as salinity increases 30 to 34.5 ppt, then drops off at higher salinities—in both cases trends indicative of shelf and slope habitat rather than towards more offshore oceanic waters (7). At smaller (meso) scale, frequents oceanographic fronts (8, 65). Within that regime, concentrated over waters of the shelf and continental slope, which, owing to shelf-break front, are particularly productive (e.g., 66). In Gulf of Panama, linked especially to waters of outer shelf break 500–1,500 m deep and where winds are low (but not calm; 55, 7).

Overall, Black Storm-Petrel density increases inversely to distance to colonies during summer, but not during the nonbreeding season; not seen farther than 360 km from the coast (7). In some locations, outer shelf edge is close to the coast, bringing this species within a few kilometers of shore, from which it often can be observed (e.g., Monterey Bay, central California [4]; west coast of southern Mexico [61]; northern Gulf of Panama [67]). In Gulf of California, less abundant overall during El Niño (65), but those remaining concentrate where ocean production is driven by local, tide rip-related processes (68). Increase in numbers off southern and central California (United States) during El Niño seen as result of vacating waters closer to breeding grounds (59). Prevalence off California has been increasing during recent decades in accord with rising sea-surface temperatures there (69, 59). See also Diet and Foraging: Feeding and Diet and Breeding: Nest Site.

Historical Changes to the Distribution

Data sparse. Undoubtedly much reduced in number from before arrival of western Europeans as a result of introduced house cats, dogs (Canis lupus), rabbits (Oryctolagus cuniculus, Lepus spp.), and rats (48, 49, 64). In a record that spans 1,500 years, Black Storm-Petrel remains appear in the middens of Barn Owl (Tyto alba) roosts at Santa Barbara Island only during the most recent 100 years (70), indicating a fairly recent colonization. See Distribution, Migration, and Habitat: Distribution in the Americas: Breeding Range, for islands where extirpated; see also Demography and Populations: Population Status.

Fossil History

No known fossils or subfossils.

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.