Tim Melling – Wilson’s Petrel

Tim writes: this Wilson’s Petrel has rather spoilt its perfect reflection by dipping its feet into the water, but you can see the diagnostic yellow webs between its toes which identifies it from all other storm petrels.  It is thought that they attract prey by dipping their yellow webs in the water.  They feed on plankton, mainly small shrimps and fish.  This one is just about to snatch a morsel from the surface but that doesn’t look like fish or shrimp.

The bird’s name commemorates Alexander Wilson, a Scot who emigrated to America.  He observed these petrels feeding off the boat when he was sailing from New Orleans to New York in 1810.  He described their behaviour perfectly: “…the most singular peculiarity of this bird is its faculty of standing, and even running, on the surface of the water, which is performs with apparent facility.  When any greasy matter is thrown overboard, these birds instantly collect around it, and, facing to windward with their long wings expanded, and their webbed feet patting the water…“. 

It was Wilson’s friend Charles Bonaparte (Napoleon’s nephew and of Bonaparte’s Gull fame) who later named them after him.  He also gave it the scientific name Procellaria wilsonii but Heinrich Kuhl had already described them, so Kuhl’s name took precedence.  Anyway, Wilson has more than his fair share of birds named after him; Wilson’s Phalarope, Warbler, Snipe, Plover and even Bird of Paradise.

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1 Reply to “Tim Melling – Wilson’s Petrel”

  1. The yellow webbing is diagnostic, but very hard to see. Best to rely on its longer legs, that project slightly beyond the tail in flight.


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