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White-headed Petrel Pterodroma lessonii


Well named for its strikingly white-headed appearance, this species is arguably one of the most distinctive of all the gadfly petrels, especially considering its robust body, bright white and wedge-shaped tail, and the pale grey rump. The White-headed Petrel also has a comparatively deep-based, chunky, all-black bill. As a breeding bird, it is found only on islands in the South Indian Ocean and the New Zealand region, where this petrel breeds in reasonably large but somewhat dispersed colonies, occupying self-excavated burrows usually in flat but well-vegetated ground. Like all Pterodroma petrels, the species is very vocal at night during the breeding season, giving loud, ‘throaty’ songs, both while in flight and from inside its burrows. Post-breeding it disperses widely throughout the Southern Ocean, and reaches both the eastern Pacific and western Atlantic at this season. Flight is not fast, but the wings are proportionately long, and from a distance the species can even appear like a miniature, immature albatross. White-headed Petrels rarely follow ships for long periods, but they do associate with other tubenoses at sea, taking cephalopods and crustaceans at the surface. However, its feeding behaviour, unlike that of many congeners, has not been well studied to date.

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Recommended Citation

White-headed Petrel (Pterodroma lessonii), In Neotropical Birds Online (T. S. Schulenberg, Editor). Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Ithaca, NY, USA. retrieved from Neotropical Birds Online: