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a bird that is standing in the dark

Bulwer’s petrel
(Bulweria bulwerii)

The Bulwer’s petrel spends its whole life almost exclusively at sea just like its close relative, the Cory’s shearwater.

It is a pelagic (open ocean) seabird that only returns to land to breed. It belongs to the order of tubenoses which also includes the albatrosses, the storm petrels and the shearwaters.

The species is named after James Bulwer (1794-1879), a Scottish naturalist and priest who lived in Madeira for a few years. Birds of the Tubenose order have two tube-like nasal passages on their long, hooked beak through which they can excrete salt. Unlike terrestrial birds, their three front toes are webbed.

Like all other tubenoses, Bulwer’s petrels are best adapted to long-distance flight, can cover huge distances and weather severe storms. They can be seen in Madeira between April and September.

General information

Further names: Portuguese: Alma negra

Size of adults: approx. 28 cm long; wingspan of approx. 67-72 cm.

Prey: They feed on small fish and squid

Habitat and range: Globally present in tropical to subtropical seas and oceans. In the Atlantic they primarily nest in the Canaries, the Azores, Madeira and Cape Verde.

Distinctive features: brown to black body colour; short neck and pointed tail.  Buoyant, twisting flight

Ecology: Highly pelagic and solitary birds that are  thought to even hunt after dusk. Estival breeding in Madeira: these birds lay a single egg between May and June in underground burrows, rock crevices or under thick vegetation, raising  one clutch a year on average. Breeding pairs can be found in the greatest number in the uninhabited Savage Islands halfway between Madeira and the Canaries to the South.

Taxonomy: Class: Aves (Bird); Order: Procellariiformes (Tubenoses)

Threats: Invasive species, light pollution, plastic pollution, nest destruction through livestock. IUCN lists these birds under least concern.

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