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White-headed Petrel - BirdForum Opus

Photo © by Absolute_beginner
South Pacific, 15 November 2017
Pterodroma lessonii


Length 40-46cm (15¾-18 in). Wingspan 109cm.
An easily identified fairly large and stocky gadfly-petrel.

Adult and juvenile are alike. White head has dark lozenge-shaped eye-patch and white of crown shades to pale grey on nape and darker grey on back becoming darkest on lower back. Rump and uppertail coverts white, tail white with grey speckling. Upperwing brownish-black with indistinct darker "M" joining across dark lower back. Underwing dark grey with coverts darkest.

Bill black, legs pinkish.

Similar Species

Unlikely to be confused with any other petrel, white head, dark eye-patch and dark underwing are diagnostic.


Circumpolar in the Southern Oceans.
Breeds on Kerguelen and Crozet Islands, on the Auckland, Antipodes and Macquarie Islands off New Zealand and probably also on Marion, Prince Edward and Campbell Islands. Disperses to seas from the pack ice north to about 300S.

Appears to be common in the Straits of Magellan but rare in the Atlantic and there are few records from South Africa although it may be more numerous than currently known.

Uncommon off southern Australia and recorded mainly during the southern winter but more common in New Zealand waters.


This is a monotypic species[1].


Breeds on oceanic islands, otherwise at sea. Usually solitary but may associate with Great-winged Petrel P. macroptera. Does not follow ships.



Powerful and swift with high sweeping arcs on bowed wings held angled forward.


Breeds is small loose colonies in the southern summer, November to April. Nest is a mat of vegetation at the end of a 1m burrow in soft soil. Eggs: 1, white (72 x 51mm), laid in late November or early December and hatch in late January or early February.


Squid, crustaceans and fish.


Deep purring call uttered at nest.


  1. Clements, JF. 2009. The Clements Checklist of Birds of the World. 6th ed., with updates to December 2009. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press. ISBN 978-0801445019.

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