Leach's Petrel

Oceanodroma leucorhoa

19-22cm

Appearance

This is a sturdier looking species than its cousin, the Storm Petrel, and its wings are longer and narrower. The sexes appear similar: the plumage is brownish-grey and there's a pale section on the upperwing coverts. It has a forked tail and a dark line running through the middle of its white rump, though both of these features are difficult to see unless at very close proximity. Juveniles appear similar to adults.

Habitat

Is at home on the open seas. Breeding occurs on isolated offshore islands among rocks and boulders, and sometimes in stone walls or ruined buildings; of the few small breeding colonies found in Britain and Ireland, all of them are on difficult to access islands.

Character

This bird only goes on land to breed, and it waits until the cover of night to do so. Otherwise it is an oceanic bird, usually seen alone or in small groups. When it is flying it appears different to the Storm Petrel; its flight path is punctuated with many changes of direction.

Food

It eats microscopic sea creatures from the water's surface; these include tiny shrimps, copepods and plankton.

Breeding

Pairs stick with each other over years. Huge nesting colonies are formed; it digs nesting tunnels in soil, and several birds may come together to make a network of tunnels. Rock crevices are also used as nesting sites. One egg is laid which both parents incubate for about 40 days; when it's hatched, the parents brood the young bird for about 5 days. They then go out to sea during the day and bring back food for the chick after dark. Young leave their burrows and abandon their breeding colonies at around 65 days.

Population

Most British and Irish birds move into the Atlantic after breeding, majority of them migrating southwards to spend winter in the tropics. A difficult species to monitor, it's estimated that there are 48 000 pairs in the UK and up to 300 in Ireland.

Observation Tips

The habits of this species make it one of the most difficult to observe in Britain. Perhaps the most accessible breeding colonies are located on St Kilda and North Rona, but other chances for viewing come in September and October; at this time, winds may drive the birds nearer to shore. The highest chance of a sighting will be at Cornwall, north Wales, Cheshire and the west coast of Ireland.

Voice

Predominately silent at sea, when in breeding colonies it makes a gurgling that has been described as sounding like a crazy pixie laughing and being sick.
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