Birds of North Carolina:
their Distribution and Abundance
White-faced Storm-Petrel - Pelagodroma marina
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General Comments Though there are rarer pelagic birds in North Carolina waters than the monotypic White-faced Storm-Petrel, no other species enthralls birders on boats like this unique species. It is rare enough to have to make a number of trips to find it, and its behavior of kicking off waves like a kangaroo, often without flapping its wings, is completely unlike any other bird. Plus, it is the only storm-petrel in the north Atlantic that is mostly gray and white, looking much more like a winter-plumaged phalarope than a storm-petrel. Though it breeds in the Pacific and Indian oceans, its sole breeding areas in the Atlantic are islands off northwestern Africa; unlike other seabirds that breed in the same area, such as Cory's Shearwater, Band-rumped Storm-Petrel, and Fea's Petrel, the White-faced tends to shun warmer, Gulf Stream waters, being found mostly in the cooler Labrador Current waters east and northeast of Oregon Inlet. As a result, it is not to be expected on most pelagic trips, which concentrate on the greater species diversity in the Gulf Stream; one might have to take special trips to cooler water to have a chance to see it.
Breeding Status Nonbreeder
NC BRC List Definitive
State Status
U.S. Status
State Rank SZ
Global Rank G5
Coastal Plain Scarce offshore visitor, but few records since 2000 (despite a large number of pelagic trips). Rare in cool water east and northeast of Oregon Inlet, late Jul to early Oct, with a peak likely in late Aug, though this peak might represent an emphasis on pelagic trips at this time of year. Casual to very rare in the Gulf Stream during this same period. An extremely early record, and a first for the spring season, was one seen from a cruise ship off Cape Hatteras on 27 May 2006. The only records away from waters off Dare appear to be three birds seen off Wilmington during a cruise from 1-8 Aug 1999; and one photographed just nine miles southeast of Cape Lookout (Carteret) on 12 Sep 2022. Peak counts: 4, off Oregon Inlet, 29 Aug 1985; two records of 2 birds in a day, but the other 23+ records are all of single birds. Accidental from shore, after hurricanes: one record, two seen at Oregon Inlet, early Oct 1971 (after Hurricane Ginger).
Piedmont No definite report. One probable White-faced was seen at Jordan Lake, 6 Sep 1996, after Hurricane Fran (Nat. Audubon Soc. Field Notes 51:40). However, no details were ever provided; thus, all records are for the Coastal Plain only.
Mountains No records.
Finding Tips Though the species has been seen on a fair number of occasions in the edge of the Gulf Stream, on the hundreds of trips out of Hatteras Inlet or trips out of Oregon Inlet that headed southeastward, the odds are increased a bit if you take a trip out of Oregon Inlet that deliberately heads northeastward into the cooler waters, north and northwest of the Gulf Stream, in Aug or early Sep. However, such trips are few and far between (generally one or two each year), success has been spotty, and relatively few other notable species are seen on these trips. Thus, you must weigh your options!
Attribution LeGrand[2023-03-19], LeGrand[2023-03-14], LeGrand[2021-11-07]
NC Map
Map depicts all counties with a report (transient or resident) for the species.
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