Black-bellied storm petrel

The first definite record of this species of storm petrel, according to Olliver, is that of Hutton who obtained a specimen at the Great Barrier Island in 1868. It was discovered breeding at the Auckland Islands by E.F. Stead in 1929.

Circumpolar in distribution, and common in the subantarctic and ranging north in the winter, it has only rarely been reported from New Zealand coastal waters.

In the New Zealand region, the black-bellied storm petrel breeds at the Auckland, Antipodes and Bounty Islands. Stead relates something of the breeding habits of this species in the Auckland Islands: "In a bare earth face, I found two tiny burrows about eighteen inches long, in each of which was a black-bellied storm petrel sitting on an egg, one of which was quite fresh and the other slightly incubated. The nest, which was in a small chamber at the end of the burrow, consisted of a good handful of grass. The birds proved to be male and female. I found several other similar burrows, apparently just finished, so it would seem that their nesting season was just beginning, February 1st.

Buller, has this to say in reference to the black-bellied storm petrel: "During stormy weather it often follows in the wake of the labouring vessel, and apparently for days together. I observed this myself, in 1856, during a severe gale, experienced off the Chatham Islands, which lasted nearly a fortnight. These Storm-Petrels followed us day and night; and it was some relief to the extreme monotony and misery of our situation (for our vessel was a mere schooner of 80 tons) to watch the movements of these fairy-like beings as they danced among the surging billows, running with fluttering wings in the hollow of the waves, and then hovering over their foaming crests with the lightness of summer butterflies. I observed that the same individual bird often remained in our wake for considerable distances, without ever resting on the water or changing its course for one moment, its powers of endurance being truly wonderful. I found, on inquiry, that seamen make no distinction between this species of Storm-Petrel and its congeners, calling them all “Mother Carey’s chickens,” and resenting as a positive sin any attempt to shoot or capture these “spirits of departed sailors,” as they facetiously term them, to whom they profess to commit the destinies of the voyage. It is an interesting sight to watch this Petrel fluttering over the stormy ocean — alternately skimming over the rolling billows and treading, as it were, the trough of the sea. It is a pretty object when seen under these circumstances, and it is not surprising that from time immemorial it has excited the sympathy of the hardy sailor. As the bird trips lightly over the waves the black and white plumage shows very clearly against the opaline blue of the deep sea water. Like the other members of the group, it subsists on small mollusks, medusæ, and any kind of greasy substance that may be floating on the water."

— Greytown, 2008

Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Thalassidroma melanogaster,Fregetta melanogastra, Mother Carey's Chickens, Little Peters, Jesus bird

Description:  — 

Native bird

20cm, 55g, black upperparts, broad white rump, grey chin, variable black line down centre of white belly connecting black breast and undertail.

Where to find:  — 

Breeds Antipodes, Auckland and Bounty Islands.

Poetry:  — 

When it blows a hard gale of wind the Stormy Petrel makes its appearance. While the sea runs mountains high, and every wave threatens destruction to the labouring vessel, this little harbinger of storms is seen enjoying itself, on rapid pinion, up and down the roaring billows. When the storm is over it appears no more. It must have been hatched in Æolus’s cave, amongst a clutch of squalls and tempests; for whenever they get out upon the ocean it always contrives to be of the party.

— Charles Waterton

Illustration description: — 


Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1840-48.

Reference(s): — 


Buller, Walter Lawry, Birds of NZ, 1888, Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

Olliver, W.R.B., New Zealand Birds, 1955.

Page date & version: — 


Friday, 30 May 2014; ver2009v1


©  2008    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.