Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae


Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae), is now known to occur annually in small numbers over deep water off North Carolina USA, and less frequently as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada. This enigmatic species is thought to be restricted to the north Atlantic, breeding on the Cape Verde Islands and also on Bugio, part of the Desertas group near Madeira. A series of pterodroma petrels observed from seawatches in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands most probably belong to this species. Fea's Petrel was formally lumped with Soft-plumaged Petrel (P. mollis), a relatively common and widely distributed southern hemisphere species and the very rare and poorly known Zino's Petrel (P. madeira) which breeds on Madeira. There has been some debate in the literature as to whether Fea's and Zino's Petrels are identifiable at sea. The general concensus is that they are indeed separable and that the majority of documented North American records can be unambiguously identified as Fea's Petrel.

Despite the resolution of the identification debate, it is important that seawatchers and pelagic birders remain familiar with key criteria needed to distinguish Fea's Petrel from Zino's and Soft-plumaged Petrels. Here is a series of pictures of a Fea's Petrel that I took in deep Gulf Stream water off Cape Hatteras, North Carolina during one of Brian Patteson's trips. Brian's black and white photos of the same bird (see Figs. 8-9) appear in the second installment of Mike Tove's comprehensive review published in ABA's Birding magazine.


Figure 1. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96 (photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson) Strong brown 'M' pattern typical of many Pterodroma. Striking pale uppertail coverts contrasting with gray mantle. Soft-plumaged Petrel in contrast, has a darker 'rump', that matches the mantle. This photo also shows the slightly darker tail feathers projecting from under tailcoverts. The tail looks long. The secondaries and inner primaries appear paler than the outer primaries.


Figure 2. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96 (photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson). Long slender wings. Photographs of suspected Zino's Petrels off Bugio, show broader wings, more obviously rounded wing tips and a much reduced 'M" mark. Again this photo of a NC bird shows the pale secondaries and striking off-white rump covering darker tail feathers.


Figure 3. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96 (photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson). Note the dark 'cap' extending across crown and covering eye. Bill relatively robust. Breast band very incomplete.


Figure 4. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96 (photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson). Very distant view I'm afraid, but shows the characteristic dark underwing contrasting with immaculate white belly and vent. The incomplete breast-band barely extending onto the breast is obvious.


Important Literature

Gantlett, S. 1995 Identification forum: field separation of Fea's, Zino's and Soft-plumaged Petrels. Birding World 8: 256-260.

Howell, S. 1996 Pterodroma identification revisited. Birding World 9: 276-277

Enticott, J.W. 1991 Identification of Soft-plumaged Petrel. British Birds 84: 245-264.

Enticott, J. and Tippling, D. 1997 Seabirds of the World: the complete reference. Stackpole Books.

McGeehan, A., McAdams, D., and Mullarney, K. 1994 Enigma Variations. Birdwatch 26: 42-45.

Tove, M. H. 1997 Fea's Petrel in North America: Part I - Taxonomy, distribution, and identification. Birding 29: 206-214.

Tove, M. H. 1997 Fea's Petrel in North America: Part II - Documentation. Birding 29: 309-315.



Searching for Pterodromas (photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson). Birders on the Miss Hatteras scan the horizon for the boomerang-like profile of Fea's Petrel. On deck, from left to right: David 'Bermuda Petrel" Wingate, Todd McGrath, Bobby Rossetti, Ned Brinkley, unknown and Michael O'Brien. Cab: Brian Patteson at the helm.



Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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