Imagine a bird as small as a sparrow, which lives most of its life on the open ocean yet can survive for decades. It walks on the water, and migrates halfway around the world, returning to remote islands to breed underground, often in exactly the same rock crevice each year. To attract a mate it sings like a fairy and smells aromatic, but it vomits oil onto its enemies. It visits its nest by night, lays a single enormous egg, and feeds its chick until the nestling weighs more than its parents put together. It seems to have little fear of humans but was itself sometimes feared by ancient seafarers.
This might sound like the stuff of legend, but is actually the description of a real creature: the European Storm-petrel; walker on water, global wanderer, climate sentinel and open-ocean survivor, and a member of a group of around twenty species that form the Hydrobatidae family.
This, the latest in the Poyser series, follows the remarkable life of the storm-petrels. Focusing on the European species, it tracks their lives from the remote North Atlantic islands where they breed via the coasts of Africa to the South Atlantic and Indian Ocean where they spend the northern winter, while expanding to discuss the other members of the storm-petrel family. We learn about their evolution, behaviour, ecology, and adaptations to a life in the harsh and unpredictable environment of the open ocean, and discover what these enigmatic seabirds can tell us about what humans are doing to our planet.
1. Introduction: the European Storm-petrel and its relatives
2. What is a storm-petrel?
3. The challenges of survival at sea
4. Diet and foraging behaviour
5. The storm-petrel's sensory world
6. Tracking the tiniest seabirds
7. Communication and mate choice
8. Breeding biology
9. Predators, parasites and pathogens
10. Conservation of storm-petrels
11. The southern storm-petrels
12. The northern storm-petrels
13. Storm-petrels in human culture
14. Encounters with storm-petrels
Rob Thomas is Reader in Behavioural Ecology at the University of Swansea, where he has been based for almost 20 years. He specialises in bird population ecology, and especially seabirds. His at-sea storm-petrel work has seen him recapturing the birds around the shores of the UK as well as Portugal and western Africa.