Leach's Storm-PetrelOceanodroma leucorhoa (Vieillot)
Status Common in summer. Breeds. Our breeding birds arrive off Nova Scotia in early April and remain until early November, and there may be later stragglers. The earliest sighting was off Cape Sable on 6 April 1972; the earliest reported arrival at a colony, on Pearl Island, Lunenburg County, was 11 April 1938 (M.B. Pearl). However, dead birds found in oil from the tanker Arrow on Sable Island on 1 March 1973 (Brown et al. 1973) must have been alive somewhere in the region.
Fairly large numbers occur locally about the many coastal islands where they breed but are seldom seen because of the bird's nocturnal habits. Daylight hours are spent in nest burrows or at sea in search of food. However, in the gray dawn of 8 November 1913 a dozen or more were found near the mouth of the Cornwallis River, where it enters Minas Basin. They seemed to be asleep among the sedges at the edge of the tidal waters and several were caught by hand. Another unusual exception was a large flock feeding in broad daylight on 15 July 1969 at the windward (northwest) side of the Canso Causeway. Charles R.K. Allen writes: "Water dotted with them as far as the eye could see must have been several hundred at least. Many groups and singles flying low across the Causeway." Late sightings are usually of birds driven inshore or inland by winter storms. The latest definite record was the bird found at Port Philip, Cumberland County, on 29 December 1964 (A. Schurman), which was much emaciated and died the next day. However, it is likely that a flock of storm-petrels observed off Sable Island on 3 January 1966 (C. and N. Bell) were of this species.
Description Length: 20-23 cm. All plumages: A blackish brown bird with a small white rump patch that extends only a little way onto the flanks; dark gray wing coverts; forked tail; bill, legs and feet black.
Breeding Nest: Bare earth at the end of a horizontal burrow up to 1 m long. Leach's Storm-Petrels nest in colonies; most are on coastal islands, but a small colony near Louisbourg in 1954 was located on a peninsula. Egg: 1; creamy white, with a faint wreath of lavender around the larger end. The incubation is surprisingly long, 40-50 days, and is performed by both parents. On 8 June 1907 Harold F. Tufts examined two burrows on Seal Island, and found two adults but no eggs. My earliest date for a fresh egg is 12 June 1937 at Indian Island, Lunenburg County. Other egg dates are: 17 June 1944, several fresh sets; 17 July 1930, of three eggs examined, two were fresh; 28 September 1934, several burrows examined, all contained young.
Range Most of the North Atlantic population breeds in eastern Newfoundland. Its range extends from Massachusetts to southeastern Labrador, and small colonies exist in Iceland, the Faeroes, Scotland and Norway. It also breeds in the North Pacific. It winters at sea, probably in the tropics.
Remarks The forked tail and black (not yellow) webs to the feet are often cited as field marks that separate Leach's Storm-Petrel from Wilson's Storm-Petrel, but these are of little use at sea. However, the long, almost tern-like wings of Leach's Storm-Petrel and its erratic, bounding flight are distinctive.
Storm-petrels, better known to many as "Mother Carey's chickens" or "careys," were sometimes disliked by the keepers of island lighthouses, who were often wholly dependent on rain water for domestic use. They stored the water in hogsheads placed to catch it as it ran off the roofs of their buildings. The petrels, flying about in numbers at night, dropped excrement on the roofs, which seriously contaminated the water. To remedy this situation, house cats were turned loose to kill large numbers of the defenceless birds at night about the entrances to their burrows. Fortunately for the birds, most of these islands are now automated and no longer occupied by lightkeeping personnel.
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