Black Storm-Petrel

Oceanodroma melania



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Black Storm-Petrel (20 July).

Large, all-dark, relatively long-winged and long-legged storm-petrel with prominently notched tail. Overall dark except for pale brown bar (wearing to grayish white) on upperwing extending transversely from lower scapulars across greater, median, and distal lesser wing coverts to just short of wrist, or bend of wing.

Black Storm-Petrel (left) and Ashy Storm-Petrel (right).

Note that the Black Storm-Petrel (left) is larger and more chocolate-brown compared to the Ashy Storm-Petrel (right), which is smaller, grayer, and shows paler underwing coverts (not as evident as usual due to lighting), and has smaller tarsi and feet.

Black Storm-Petrel chick (22 July).

Chicks are covered in long, thick, grayish-brown down, which becomes lighter in appearance as chick expands in surface area.

Juvenile Black Storm-Petrel (23 September).

Juvenile Plumage is similar in coloration to Definitive Basic Plumage, except that plumage is fresher than in adults in fall and winter, with thin fringing to the upperwing and underwing coverts more distinct. The evenly worn body feathering and wing coverts, the uniform look to the primaries and secondaries, and the brownish and narrow outer primaries and rectrices, suggests that this is a Juvenile.

Juvenile Black Storm-Petrel (28 August).

The evenly worn and brown plumage indicates a juvenile. One or two new, blacker back feathers are evident, indicating adventitious feather replacement or, perhaps, a Preformative Molt (see Molt).

Black Storm-Petrel likely undergoing Second Prebasic Molt (17 July).

Juvenile outer primaries and rectrices average narrower and become increasingly brownish and abraded through the first spring and summer with wear, as compared with basic feathers. Timing of molt can also assist with age; juveniles appear to molt primaries in April-July.

Black Storm-Petrel undergoing Definitive Prebasic Molt (2 October).

In adults, complete molt occurs mostly away from breeding grounds, during non-breeding season, primarily October–March. Primary molt proceeds distally from p1 to p10. The broad and relatively dark and fresh outer primaries indicate that this bird is undergoing the Definitive Prebasic Molt but the early timing suggests a pre-breeding individual, perhaps 2-4 years of age.

Black Storm-Petrel undergoing Definitive Prebasic Molt (7 December).

The Definitive Prebasic Molt has commenced, with the inner two primaries (p1-p2) on each wing having dropped. Note the 'molt clines' in the primaries, with outer feathers appearing fresher and darker, indicating a previous molt and that the older feathering if past of the Definitive Basic Plumage. The later timing to the commencement of this molt suggests that this was a successfully breeding adult the previous summer and fall.

Definitive Basic Black Storm-Petrel (20 August).

Entire body rich, dark, blackish brown; more sooty black dorsally, warm blackish brown ventrally. Head, neck, and mantle with slight plumbeous gloss when fresh. Upperwing coverts with transverse pale bar formed by broad buff-brown to pale brown outer edges to greater, median, and distal lesser coverts; bar does not reach forward to leading edge of wing. Remiges, primary coverts, and tail black, with rich fuscous tone; shafts to primaries pale at base, usually visible for short distance beyond tips of primary coverts. The broad blackish outer primaries and rectrices indicate Definitive Basic rather than Juvenile Plumage.

Definitive Basic Black Storm-Petrel (21 September).

Head, neck, and mantle with slight plumbeous gloss, creating darker appearance than rest of body feathering. Underwing coverts like belly, sometimes wood or even rusty brown, contrasting with black-brown border of wing.

Definitive Basic Black Storm-Petrel (2 October).

Transverse upperwing-covert bar can appear indistinct or nearly absent in some worn adults. Shafts to primaries pale at base, usually visible for short distance beyond tips of primary coverts.

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).

Example of Black Storm-Petrel breeding habitat: Islas Coronado.

Isla Coronado Norte from Isla Coronado (Middle Rock).

Example of Black Storm-Petrel breeding habitat: Isla Coronado (Middle Rock), at Islas Coronado.
Black Storm-Petrels foraging.

Picks live organisms from sea surface by pattering, dipping, and contact-dipping. Most active foraging during crepuscular periods, perhaps at night as well.

Black Storm-Petrels foraging.

In general, any small fish, squid, or crustacean that occurs near or at the surface is likely prey. Scavenges large floating items by swimming alongside and pecking at them.

Black Storm-Petrels foraging.
Black Storm-Petrels in flight.

At sea, flight is slow and deliberate, with deep wing beats interspersed with long glides. Mainly flies angled to the wind; avoids flying with a tail wind.

Black Storm-Petrel foraging.

When feeding, like many storm-petrel species, often flies into the wind, more or less hovering with feet pushing off the water surface; called "pattering."

Black Storm-Petrel on water surface.

Swims on surface by paddling webbed feet.

Raft of Black Storm-Petrels.

Forms "rafts" composed of many individuals resting closely packed on the sea surface during the day. Birds often asleep with head tucked into scapulars.

Black Storm-Petrel flock.

Forages singly or in loose flocks at sea, depending on dispersion of prey. Mostly forages singly, but can forage in mixed-species flocks of seabirds, especially shearwaters, as well as in the company of marine mammals, such as this killer whale (Orcinus orca).

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.

Black Storm-Petrel chick.

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

Black Storm-Petrel (cover image).

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.