Australian Biological Resources Study

Australian Faunal Directory


Regional Maps

Family OCEANITIDAE Forbes, 1882

Compiler and date details

R. Schodde CSIRO Australian National Wildlife Collection, Canberra, ACT, Australia


The family Oceanitidae (southern storm petrels) was separated recently from the Hydrobatidae following studies by Harper (1978), Jouanin & Mougin (1979), Barrowclough et al. (1981), and Nunn & Stanley (1998), and recognised by Christidis & Boles (2008). The decisions were made based on the interpretation of DNA analysis. Although cosmopolitan, apart from the Arctic, the family is concentrated within the Southern Hemisphere and is sister to the northern hydrobatids; there are eight species in five genera, five of which have an Australian distribution. The erratic fluttering flight of these birds is normally achieved by turning into the wind and using it to lift, thus gaining height, after which they glide towards the water surface where the whole process is repeated.

Oceanitids, like their northern counterparts, are mostly migratory pelagic dwellers more often seen offshore in marine situations from tropical to Antarctic environments rather than inshore; they are usually in small, scattered flocks often forming gregarious feeding aggregations. Plumage characteristics are distinctive, the counter plumage being darker above and paler below. Vocalisations are generally restricted to communication between pairs either while courting in near or in the nest chamber. The slender bill is both hooked and grooved, and has small top-opening nasal tubes. Wings of the oceanitids are long and narrow and the tail is often forked; the legs are long, slender and the three forward-facing anisodactyl toes are webbed; as in other seabirds the hallux is diminutive.

Similar to the hydrobatids, they feed principally on cephalopods or other small marine animals such as fish and plankton, mostly procured from the sea’s surface. Occasionally other flotsam is also consumed. During the process of feeding, the webbed toes often strike the water giving the impression of walking on the surface.

Only one species, Pelagodroma marina, is known to breed on Australian coastal islands, the remainder of those with an Australian distribution prefer isolated places such as Lord Howe, Macquarie, and Heard Islands. They are colonial nesters, choosing to breed in burrows or rock crevices or clefts. The nests are mainly simply shallow depressions although there are instances where grass lining has been used. A single short-oval or elliptical, white egg is laid then incubated by both adults alternately. Eggs often become stained from the burrow, giving the egg a speckled appearance at the larger end.

After a 40-50 day incubation, the nidicolous, downy fledgling hatches and again is cared for by both parents. It is during this time that most vocalisation is heard, sounds rarely heard at sea. These sounds are described as ‘chuckling and purring’, ‘chirping, squealing and cooing’.


Excluded Taxa

Vagrant Species

OCEANITIDAE: Fregetta maoriana (Mathews, 1932) [New Zealand Storm-Petrel]

OCEANITIDAE: Nesofregetta fuliginosa (Gmelin, 1789) [Polynesian Storm-Petrel]


History of changes

Note that this list may be incomplete for dates prior to September 2013.
Published As part of group Action Date Action Type Compiler(s)
10-Nov-2020 AVES 08-Sep-2022 MODIFIED
20-Nov-2015 OCEANITIDAE Forbes, 1882 28-Sep-2022 MODIFIED
10-Nov-2020 PROCELLARIIFORMES 08-Feb-2014 MODIFIED Dr Wayne Longmore
12-Feb-2010 (import)