Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
European Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates pelagicus
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General Comments Birders looking at range maps of what pelagic species should have been seen in North Carolina waters before the end of the 20th Century were struck by the absence of (definitive) records of two species that breed on islands off Africa, the Little Shearwater and the European Storm-Petrel. Though there had been a specimen found at Sable Island, off Nova Scotia, in 1970, the absence of sightings at sea of the British Storm-Petrel (as it was long named) was striking. Even though the species is in a different genus, it appears to be quite similar to the abundant Wilson's Storm-Petrel, and thus perhaps its absence was due to being overlooked. In 2003, a photograph of an apparent European Storm-Petrel, taken by accident off Hatteras Inlet and identified several months later, was circulated for comments, though it was not accepted by the NC BRC. Thankfully, it was only two years later, in May 2005, that definite records were made, photographs of birds off both Oregon and Hatteras inlets, on the same day! Since then, a handful of records have been made in this same area, all in a relatively narrow window in late May and early June.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G3G4
Coastal Plain Offshore visitor. Very rare to rare, and certainly easily overlooked, in the Gulf Stream off Oregon and Hatteras inlets in late spring/very early summer; one to several records almost annually since 2005. As of 2023, about 22 records. Dates are mainly from 30 May to 10 Jun, with the earliest being one off Hatteras Inlet, 14 May 2022. One off Hatteras Inlet on 29 Jul 2016 was quite "late". Peak counts: 2, possibly 3, off Hatteras, 31 May 2011; 2, off Hatteras Inlet, 30 May 2005. Records through 2008 were summarized and documented in N. Am. Birds (62:512-517). There are no inland records.
Piedmont No records.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Thankfully for birders looking for this rarity, nearly all records are concentrated in the last few days of May and the first few days of early Jun. As it is being seen annually, though only one or two records per year, taking an organized pelagic trip out of Hatteras or Oregon inlets, putting out a fish oil slick, and then thoroughly scanning the dozens of Wilson's Storm-Petrels attracted to the slick has a fair (though far less than 50-50) chance of producing a European Storm-Petrel. Even if that fails, this is an excellent time of year to see other rare species!
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Attribution LeGrand[2023-08-10], LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2022-09-12]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
Click on county for list of all known species.