I seem to having my own mini petrel-event here on the blog recently, I think it must be anticipation of seeing some in a few weeks. This time I’m not talking about the petrels of New Zealand, but those of the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. I’ve already done a look at the terns of Tern Island, so this is about the many petrels you can find there.

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters

The commonest of the two shearwater species you can find on the island, this species has burrows all over the place. But you don’t need to wait for them to emerge from the burrows to see them, as Wedge-tailed Shearwaters spend a lot of time loafing on the surface. They are also one of the more vocal species on the island, braying like lost souls under the house we lived in.

You can see more Wedge-tailed Shearwater photos here.

 Christmas Shearwaters

Much less common that their larger relatives, but at the same time their habit of surface breeding means they are always around to find in certain spots. Smaller and darker than Wedgies, they are a species that not many birders have seen.

You can see more shots of Christmas Shearwaters here.

Bonin Petrels

This North Pacific endemic is the only gadfly petrel on Tern Island. It breeds at different times of the year to avid competition with the aggressive Wedgies, and I didn’t see very many while I was there I was around at the wrong time. One time I did see tem was with the aid of night vision gear – certainly unusual birding, and the air I photographed here were an early arrival found during routine maintenance of their nesting boxes, a lucky find!

 These attractive petrels should have been around Japan when this shot was taken!

Bulwer’s Petrel

This tiny little petrel (which is actually closer to the shearwaters than gadfly-petrels) is barely bigger than the largest storm-petrels. They bred in rubble and rocky areas, although I once fished one out from under the kitchen sink when it started singing as I was doing the dishes.

This Bulwer’s Petrel was hanging out by the coastguard dump.

Tristam’s Storm-petrel

From a tiny petrel to a fairly hefty storm-petrel, this species has a small breeding presence on Tern Island. It ranges from Hawaii to Japan, and I really don’t know much about it, save that I only ever got to see some nearly fledged chicks. Pretty neat bird though.

 This Tristam’s Storm-petrel is nearly ready to fledge.

Black-footed Albatrosses

One of Hawaii’s three species of albatross, this one isn’t likely to mistaken for much else. Also the first species I saw, long before I ever went to Hawaii, while working in California. These guys get around!

An adult Black-footed Albatross loafing in the evening and failing to fly to California.

Laysan Albarosses

Last but by no means least are the Laysan Albatrosses. Named for the Northwestern Hawaiian island of Laysan, these attractive albies also nest across Hawaii, even on some of the main islands, and in some Pacific  islands of Mexico. Birds banded on Tern island have also been recorded feeding in Alaska. To be an albatross is to move!

You can see more photos of Laysan Albatrosses here.

So, as you can see, Tern Island has a great deal more than terns!  And to end, since it has been a while since I had an image for Skywatch Friday…


Written by Duncan
Duncan Wright is a Wellington-based ornithologist working on the evolution of New Zealand's birds. He's previously poked albatrosses with sticks in Hawaii, provided target practice for gulls in California, chased monkeys up and down hills Uganda, wrestled sharks in the Bahamas and played God with grasshopper genetics in Namibia. He came into studying birds rather later in life, and could quit any time he wants to.