grey petrel

The Grey petrel was discovered in the seas adjacent to New Zealand by the Forsters during Cook's second voyage. Latham described it from Forsters drawing as the Cinereus petrel and Gmelin converted this to its present scientific title, says Oliver.

The grey petrel is a winter breeder, laying its eggs in April, May and June. On Campbell Island they use the burrows of sooty shearwaters and, except for a little enlarging and cleaning, nothing is done to them by the grey petrels. The burrow usually runs straight for about two feet and then turns at a right angle for another two and a half feet and ends in a chamber about eighteen inches in diameter. The single egg is white with both ends equally rounded.

The grey petrel, like many of the species puffinus, takes its food in the open sea by diving. It uses its wings under water much in the same manner as when flying and reappears with the wings still spread. It readily plunges from heights of up to 10m and swims underwater using its wings. Its prey is mostly squid. Since grey petrels can dive so deep and they are attracted to food scraps around fishing boats, many are caught on baited fish hooks.

Darwin, in his Voyage of the Beagle, comments, "A second species Puffinus cinereus, which is common to Europe, Cape Horn, and the coast of Peru, is of a much smaller size than the P. gigantea, but, like it, of a dirty black colour. It generally frequents the inland sounds in very large flocks: I do not think I ever saw so many birds of any other sort together, as I once saw of these behind the island of Chiloe. Hundreds of thousands flew in an irregular line for several hours in one direction. When part of the flock settled on the water the surface was blackened, and a noise proceeded from them as of human beings talking in the distance." Birdlife now classifies this bird as "near threatened".

— Greytown, 2008

grey petrel
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

Pediunker, Great grey tern, Great Grey Petrel, Great Gray Petrel, Black-tailed Shearwater, Brown Petrel, Bulky Petrel, Gray Shearwater, Grey Shearwater, Procellaria hasitata, priofinus cinereus, Adamaster cinereus

Description:  — 

Native bird

48cm. A large (c. 1000g) ash-grey and white petrel with brownish grey mantle, back, uppertail-coverts and upperwings, and dark grey underwings, contrasting with white belly. Differs from White-headed Petrel in having dark grey cap, and from other larger petrels and shearwaters in combination of white underparts and wholly dark underwing.

Where to find:  — 

In New Zealand waters it breeds at Campbell and Antipodes Islands; may be seen off the east coast.

Illustration description: — 


Gould, John, Birds of Australia, 1848.

Mathews, G.M., Birds of Australia, 1910-27.

Reference(s): — 


Heather, B., & Robertson, H., Field Guide to the Birds of New Zealand, 2000.

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

Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.

Page date & version: — 


Saturday, 31 May 2014; ver2009v1


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