white-chinned petrel

“This species, the Cape Hen of sailors, was described as early as 1747 by George Edwards while its scientific name was bestowed by Linne in 1758, the Cape of Good Hope given as the locality where it was found. In the New Zealand region it was first obtained from the Auckland Islands about 1892 and from the Antipodes two years later”, says Oliver. It was called shoemaker by the early sealers who visited the Sub-Antarctic islands because of the sound the bird makes in its burrow, a succession of clacks and rattles.

In the New Zealand region, the white-chinned petrel breeds mainly at the Auckland, Antipodes and Macquarie Islands, with a relict population at Campbell Island. During the breeding season from September-May, white-chinned petrels are widely distributed over shelf, slope and oceanic waters from 37ºS to 62ºS. Their numbers start decreasing in March-April and during the non-breeding season from June-August, they virtually vanish from New Zealand waters to South America.

The white-chinned and Westland petrel are the largest petrels to nest in underground burrows. Slightly larger than the Westland petrel, the white-chinned is distinguished from the Westland petrel by the lack of a black tip on the bird’s bill. While most birds have a white chin, the white chin is usually very difficult to see.

White-chinned petrels are not as common as Westland petrels off the Kaikoura Coast although groups of up to 15 birds can be seen around fishing boats. An inquisitive seabird which congregates around fishing boats, it can dive to depths of 10 metres or more using its wings to fly underwater.

—  Greytown, 2006

white-chinned petrel
Sub Species:

Other common names:  — 

shoemaker, Cape hen

Description:  — 

Native bird

55 cm., 1250 g., sexes alike, almost entirely dark brown or black, with a variable amount of white on the chin, sometimes white on face and crown, distinguished from the Westland petrel by the lack of a black tip on the bird’s beak.

Where to find:  — 

Regularly appears of the NZ coast in winter and spring, can be seen off the Kaikoura coast throughout the year, peak numbers in late spring and early summer.

Illustration description: — 


Mathews, Gregory, The Birds of Australia 1910-28.

Edwards, George, The Natural History of Uncommon Birds, 1746.

Reference(s): — 


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

Readers Digest Complete Book of NZ Birds, 1985.

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

Page date & version: — 


Wednesday, 14 August 2019; ver2009v1


©  2006    Narena Olliver,    new zealand birds limited,     Greytown, New Zealand.