White-chinned Petrel (Procellaria aequinoctialis)

'At South Georgia, where this large black petrel is extraordinarily abundant, I once asked a Norwegian whaleman why the bird was called 'shoemaker'. He replied, 'Because he sits in his shop and sings,' There is no doubt about that, for the shrill chattering of the species probably makes up a greater volume of noise than the vocies of any other petrels nesting at this antarctic island.'

Robert Cushman Murphy (1936) Oceanic Birds of South America.

A White-chinned Petrel photographed off the Brazilian shelf (depth over 3000 m) in August 1999. Photo copyright of Fabio Olmos©, 2000.


Until recently, White-chinned Petrel (also known as Shoemaker Petrel) and Spectacled Petrel were considered a single species. This is a large, heavily built dark black-brown petrel. A very persistent ship-follower.

Photo copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Separation from other procellaria and dark shearwaters such as Flesh-footed Shearwater can be difficult, especially on isolated birds. In Australia, most birds have a very pale tip to the bill without a hint of black or dusky coloration. In a recent posting to ID-Frontiers, Tony Palliser suggests a simple rule of thumb: '....ask yourself is the bird larger than a Flesh-footed Shearwater [or Pink-footed Shearwater]? If it is fairly obvious that it is (say 20-30% larger) and as far as you can see the bill is without a black tip then you can safely assume it will be a White-chinned Petrel'.

The amount of white feathering on the chin is variable, both on an individual level and geographically. Birds in Australia and New Zealand tend to show much less white than birds in the Indian and Atlantic Oceans. Birds in the south Atlantic near South America are obviously white-chinned (Jaramillo, 1999). The sides of the bill is straw yellow (exact color varies with age), except for the dark cutting edge and base of nostril. The ungues on some, but not all, birds looking distinctly whitish with an almost glossy tone. The ungues are normally paler than the main plates. There is a very nice, 'head shot' of the first Texas record, taken by Alan Mueller on the Texas Bird Records Committee home page.

The similar looking Parkinson's Black Petrel is slightly smaller with a slimmer body, narrower wings and more slender bill. The bill color is horn to off-white, dusky on the outer third including the upper and lower nails. The bill of White-chinned Petrel is stockier and more yellowish.


Strong flier, with slow, purposeful wing beats interspersed with long glides. In strong winds, soars rather like an albatorss.

Photo copyright of Ron Saldino©, 1999.

Where and When

Breeds in a circumpolar belt around the southern ocean, generally between 60 deg. S and 30 deg. South, corresponding to the boundary between Antarctic and Subantarctic zones. At least two million pairs breed in South Georgia.

Outside the breeding season, ranges further north towards subtropical upwellings such as a the Humbold Current off western South America and the Benguela Current off South Africa.

Sadly, suffers heavily from longline fishing. As Jim Enticott puts it, 'birds gather in thousands and drown by day and by night.'

Photographs on the web

In flight, showing underside of wings From Tony Palliser's awesome seabird collection.

Detail of bill Bird in the hand. First Texas record, taken by Alan Mueller


Tony Palliser (1999) [BIRDWG01] 'black' Procellaria petrels. Posting to NBHC Id-Frontiers on 28 Jan 1999

Alvaro Jaramillo (1999) [BIRDWG01] 'black' Procellaria petrels. Posting to NBHC Id-Frontiers on 27 Jan 1999


Many thanks to Fabio Olmos and Ron Saldino for generously allowing me to use their delightful photographs.

Copyright © 2002 All rights reserved. Angus Wilson
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