Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae)

'September 12. Lat. 23.17 N., Long. 28.49 W. We were only 350 miles from the Cape Verdes....Mutton birds, a kind of blue-gray petrel, began to appear in small flocks. They probably represent the rare species that nests on certain high islands of the Cape Verde group.'

'September 15. ....The mutton birds are now common, and I have no longer any doubt that they are Fea's petrel of the Cape Verdes, named for the Italian who collected the first one about 1899. They fly singly or in pairs, never approaching us closely, although we passed within half a length of one that was feeding on the floating carcass of a squid. Their flight almost grazing the water, reminds me of a marsh harrier foraging over vast salt meadows at home, alternately soaring and beating its wings, now rising, now just skimming the pulsing waves of green thatch, wandering capriciously and of a sudden darting downward for its prey.'

Robert Cushman Murphy (1947) Logbook for Grace: Whaling brig Daisy, 1912-1913.

Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae) photographed on 10 September 2000 off Desertas Isles, Madeira by Fabio Olmos© 2002.


Also known as Gon-gon or Cape Verde Petrel
First described from a specimen collected on the Cape Verde Islands (Salvadori, 1899).

Recent DNA analysis suggests that Fea's Petrel and the similar Zino's Petrel are not closely related Soft-plumaged Petrel.

Figure 1. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96. 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. Photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson.


Figure 2. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96. 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. Photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson.

Where and When

Breeds in the Cape Verde Islands (500-1000 pairs, see below) and on Bugio (150-200 pairs), one of the Ilhas Desertas, a small archipelago 20 km southeast of Madeira. Fea's Petrels may also breed in the Azores and at least two individuals have been trapped in August on a small islet (see photograph in Birding World 1999, 12(9): pp363).

Regularly seen by land-based seawatches on several islands (e.g. Santo Antao, Vila da Ribeira Grande and Porta do Sol) within the Cape Verde Islands. While cruising through the islands in 1976, Lambert (cited in Hazevoet,1997) encountered small numbers of Fea's Petrels around the islands of Santo Antao and Sao Vicente and eastwards towards Santa Luzia; south of Boavista to Maio and southwest of Santiago; around Fogo, Brava and Ilheus do Rhombo. Hazevoet (1997) reports that a recently published cook book includes recipes for a number of seabirds including bioro (Fea's Petrel), a highly recommended speciality of Sao Antao. Travellers to the islands beware!

Now seen regularly in deep Gulf Stream water off North Carolina USA, and less frequently as far north as Nova Scotia, Canada. For a detailed review of North American records see Tove, 1997a and 1997b. In a recent re-analysis of the first Irish record (Cape Clear, 5th September 1974), Jim Enticott pointed out that the North American and British/Irish records peak at different times during the summer months, May and August/September, respectively. This pattern Enticott suggests, might reflect a clockwise migration around the North Atlantic similar to that of Sooty and Greater Shearwaters. The data set of records is probably too small at the moment for any solid conclusions but the hypothesis is an attractive one.

Figure 3. Fea's Petrel Pterodroma feae, Gulf Stream, North Carolina USA 7/20/96. 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. Photo Copyright © 1998 Angus Wilson.

Photographs on the web

Nice series of Canada's first record Taken off Nova Scotia in July. Great photos by Sasha Hooker

Figure 4. 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.


Bourne, W.R.P. (1983) The Soft-plumaged Petrel, the Gon-gon and the Freira, Pterodroma mollis, P. feae and P. madeira. Bull. Brit. Ornith. Club 103: 52-58.

Enticott, J.W. (1999) Britain and Ireland's first 'Soft-plumaged Petrel' - an historical and personal perspective. British Birds 92: 504-518.

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.

Fisher, D. (1989) Petrodroma petrels in Madeira. Birding World 2: 283-287.

Gantlett, S. (1995) Identification forum: field separation of Fea1s, Zino1s and Soft-plumaged Petrels. Birding World 8: 256-260.

Hazevoet, C.J. (1997) Notes on distribution, conservation, and taxonmy of birds from the Cape Verde Islands, including records of six species new to the archiplego. Bulletin Zoologisch Museum, University of Amsterdam, 15(13): 89-100.

Hooker, S. K. and Baird, R. W. (1997) A Fea's Petrel (Pterodroma feae) off Nova Scotia: the first record for Canada. Birders Journal 6 (5): 245-248.

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

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

Salvadori, T (1899) Collezioni ornitologiche fatte nelle isole del Capo Verde da Leonardo Fea. Ann. Mus. Civ. Stor. Nat. (Genova) (Ser 2) 20: 283-312.

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

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

Zonfrillo, B. (1994) The Soft-plumaged Petrel group. Birding World 7: 71-72.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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