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Petrels Shearwaters and Fulmars: Procellariidae

Behavior And Reproduction

Procellariids excel at flying, with equal ability to flap as well as soar, which makes finding and catching food easy. Shearwaters are named for their tendency to glide just over the water's surface.

Like other Procellariiformes, procellariids vomit their smelly stomach oil onto enemies. This defense mechanism is used against predators during breeding season and against humans who get too close.

Procellariids breed in locations near seawater. Although many species gather together to form breeding colonies, others breed alone or in much smaller colonies. Their nests are made of mounds of grass and stones or in the crevices of rock ledges, depending on the location and what building material is available. Still other nesters burrow into the ground or use abandoned rabbit dens as home for their egg.

At the time of its first breeding the procellariid is usually around five or six years old. One egg is laid, and both parents take turns sitting on it in shifts lasting two to fourteen days. This goes on for six to nine weeks, depending on the species, and then the egg hatches. Parents care for the chick but leave it as soon as it is able to control its own body temperature, which is anywhere from two to twenty days after birth. At that time, parents visit the chick only at feeding time. A week or two after the parents leave, the chick heads out to sea.

These birds live for an average of fifteen to twenty years, though one is on record as living to the age of fifty.


Manx shearwaters migrate over 6,210 miles (10,000 kilometers) every winter on their way to South America. This is an amazing fact in and of itself, but consider how far the oldest known wild bird has flown. A Manx shearwater was tagged in Northern Ireland and identified as an adult (at least five years old) in 1953. It was trapped again in July 2003, making it at least fifty-five years old. Given that this Manx makes an annual migration of 6,210 miles, which means it has flown a minimum of 621,000 miles (1,000,000 kilometers) in its lifetime (fifty roundtrip flights of 12,420 miles [19,984 kilometers]).

Additional topics

Animal Life ResourceBirdsPetrels Shearwaters and Fulmars: Procellariidae - Physical Characteristics, Behavior And Reproduction, Manx Shearwater (puffinus Puffinus): Species Accounts, Northern Fulmar (fulmarus Glacialis): Species Accounts - GEOGRAPHIC RANGE, HABITAT, DIET, PETRELS