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Birds, Wildlife and Gardening

Say hello to the Storm Petrel

Tuesday 20th July comments: today we introduce a special seabird and for reasons we’ll explain very soon.  Say hello to a member of the tube nose family, say hello to the Storm Petrel…

Storm Petrels are small birds (about the size of a House Martin), black in colour apart from a distinctive white rump and a fluttering bat-like flight. The large majority of the population breeds on islands off the coasts of Europe, with the greatest numbers in the Faroe Islands, UK, Ireland, and Iceland.

These birds come ashore under the cover of darkness and nest underground in crevices, burrows, cairns or stone-walls. They will raise a single chick before eventually departing once again. During that time their nocturnal activities (singing away in total darkness) and fascinating smell (many who have smelt them really like the odour!) make these birds a mysterious seabird of the British Isles. During the Autumn and winter months the birds are strictly oceanic as they feed on small fish, squid and zooplankton while pattering across the surface of the sea and can find oily edible items by smell.

Many myths and stories are associated with the species as they have a long and deep-rooted association with storms. The birds are believed to be a bad omen to mariners as they are said to either foretell or cause bad weather. They are also thought to be the souls of perished sailors and it was bad luck to kill a Petrel. More interestingly, its old name was Mother Carey’s Chicken. Reading old tales, Mother Carey was a supernatural figure personifying the cruel and threatening sea in the imagination of sailors and she was a similar character to Davy Jones (who be some accounts may have been her husband!) Either way, Storm petrels were not popular amongst sailors. The other well-known story linked to Storm petrels is that they are called ‘St.Peter’s birds’ as the name was given to them because of their uncanny ability to seemingly walk on the water (St.Peter was the Apostle who witnessed Jesus do this).

So where does the Isle of May fit into this? Well more on that over the next few days…. It’s an interesting story….

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