Pelecanoides urinatrixcommon diving petrel(Also: common diving-petrel)

Geographic Range

Common diving petrels are found in the waters of the Southern Ocean between 35 and 55 degrees South, between the area of the subtropical convergence to subantarctic waters. They are found mostly around the islands they use for breeding. There are 6 recognized subspecies, each corresponding to a relatively sedentary population around a set of breeding islands. Subspecies are: 1) P. u. coppingeri on offshore islands off southern Chile, 2) P. u. berard, which breeds on the Falkland Islands, 3) P. u. dacunhae, found on the Tristan da Cunha island group and Gough Island, 4) P. u. chathamensis, found on the Solander, Stewart, Snares, and Chatham islands, 5) P. u. excsul, found in the southern Indian ocean near South Georgia, Auckland, the Antipodes, and Campbell Islands, and 6) P. u. urinatrix, on islands off the southern coast of Australia, Tasmania, and New Zealand. (Brooke, 2004)


Common diving petrels are found for much of the year (10 months) on or near oceanic islands on which they breed. Islands are usually predator free, but non-native predators have been introduced in some areas. Nesting colonies are found in vegetated slopes of islands, occasionally on flat ground. Nesting burrows are generally found in soft soil, sand, or scree. They feed mainly in nearshore areas around these islands, but have also been observed in pelagic waters outside of the breeding season. Their habitat and distribution are not well known during the 2 months of the year that they are not at breeding colonies. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

Physical Description

Like other diving petrels, common diving petrels are smaller, stoutly built seabirds with robust bills, black plumage dorsally, and white plumage on the chin, breast, and belly. The scapulars have white tips, forming a faint stripe on the wing. The face and sides of the neck are more brown than black and the black plumage fades gradually to the whiter plumage of the ventral surfaces. The bill is black and the legs and feet are blue. These diving petrels are 20 to 25 cm long and from 86 to 185 g. They are indistinguishable from South Georgia diving petrels (Pelecanoides georgicus), except in the hand, where they may be distinguished by the brown inner webs of their outer primary feathers (light colored in South Georgia diving petrels). They are also distinguished by the dimensions and configuration of their bills and nostrils from other Pelecanoides species. The 6 recognized subspecies differ slightly in body measurements and bill size, but no comprehensive study has been conducted. Sexual dimorphism is not reported. Like other diving petrels, they are able to store and transport prey items in a gular pouch, formed by a distensible portion of skin in the throat. This characteristic is hinted at by their generic name Pelecanoides, referring to its similarity to the gular sac of pelicans (Pelecanidae). (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Sexual Dimorphism
  • sexes alike
  • Range mass
    86 to 185 g
    3.03 to 6.52 oz
  • Range length
    20 to 25 cm
    7.87 to 9.84 in


Mating in diving petrels is not well-documented. Males and females begin to visit nesting colonies well before egg-laying. Individuals occupy small nesting territories and dig a burrow up to 1.5 m long in soft soil, sand, or scree, often with some vegetation or rock helping to hide the burrow entrance. Individuals call to indicate that their territory is inhabited and perhaps to advertise for a mate. Males and females help to raise their single offspring together. (del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

Common diving petrels nest for much of the year in large breeding colonies. Nests are placed in burrows, rock crevices, or under the protection of thick vegetation. Burrows are dug in soft substrates, usually with vegetation or rocks obscuring the burrow entrance. Burrows are from 25 to 150 cm long. Some colonies have a density of 1 nest per square meter. These birds congregate at breeding colonies about 5 months before breeding commences. Breeding season varies latitudinally among populations. Colonies are busy with birds in the pre-laying period. Females go to sea to feed before returning to the colony to lay a single, white egg. Egg laying may occur in July in the northernmost part of their range and as late as December in the southernmost portions of their range. Egg laying can be extended, with egg laying occurring for 7 weeks in the Crozet Islands. Eggs are incubated for 53 to 55 days, the young are brooded for 10 to 15 days, and are then visited for feedings until they are about 35 days old, at 115 to 125% of adult body weights. Fledging occurs at 45 to 59 days. Young common diving petrels begin to visit breeding colonies in the year after their hatching and will reproduce for the first time in their 2nd or 3rd year. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Breeding interval
    Common diving petrels breed once yearly.
  • Breeding season
    Breeding season varies across the range of common diving petrels, from April to December, earlier in the north and later in the south.
  • Range eggs per season
    1 to 1
  • Range time to hatching
    53 to 55 days
  • Range fledging age
    45 to 59 days
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (female)
    2 to 3 years
  • Range age at sexual or reproductive maturity (male)
    2 to 3 years

Common diving petrel parents both incubate, brood, and feed their young. Young hatch with a covering of gray down. After the brooding period, parents visit their young an average of 1.88 times per day to deliver regurgitated meals of around 26 g. (Brooke, 2004)

  • Parental Investment
  • altricial
  • pre-fertilization
    • provisioning
    • protecting
      • female
  • pre-hatching/birth
    • provisioning
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female
  • pre-weaning/fledging
    • provisioning
      • male
      • female
    • protecting
      • male
      • female


Average annual survival of adults is estimated at 75%, leading to maximum age estimates in the wild of about 6.5 years. Young have a high survival rate to fledging, of about 87%, but post-fleding mortality can be high. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Typical lifespan
    Status: wild
    6.5 (high) years


Common diving petrels are found most of the year on islands where they form dense breeding colonies. They forage in the offshore and continental shelf regions around their breeding islands. They spend the night in burrows during the breeding season and seem to forage mainly during the day, although they also forage at night on vertically migrating plankton. Outside of the breeding season they are seen alone or in small rafts and generally don't associate with other bird species while foraging. They are thought to be fairly sedentary, remaining more or less in the area of their breeding colony year-round, although they may venture into the open ocean to forage outside of the breeding season and some studies suggest seasonal movements. Like other diving petrels, these birds fly with characteristic fast wing beats close to the water. They seem to molt all of their flight feathers at once, leaving them flightless for several weeks. However, the loss of their primary feathers doesn't impact their ability to dive and capture prey. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

Home Range

Home range sizes are not reported.

Communication and Perception

Common diving petrels are noisy birds, often calling while flying, approaching or leaving colonies, and while on the ground or on their nests. Males and females use different calls. Males sound a bit like a rising "kooo-ah," whereas females give a longer "kuaka-did-a-did" call. (Brooke, 2004)

Food Habits

Common diving petrels use their wings to propel them underwater and catch most of their prey in underwater pursuit. They can dive to depths of 60 m. The legs are used to steer. Their diet is mainly aquatic crustaceans, mainly copepods (Copepoda), amphipods (Amphipoda, especially Hyperiella antarctica and Hyperoche medusarum), euphasiid krill (Euphausiidae, Euphasia superba), and some isopods (Isopoda). South Georgia diving petrels (Pelecanoides georgicus) seem to specialize on euphasiids in their diet, whereas common diving petrels dive deeper for prey, targeting primarily copepods and amphipods in the breeding season, although they will take more euphasiids outside of the breeding season. Common diving petrels forage mainly in the near shore areas around their breeding colonies. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Primary Diet
  • carnivore
    • eats non-insect arthropods
  • Animal Foods
  • aquatic crustaceans


Common diving petrels are preyed on by non-native predators in their breeding colonies, such as domestic cats (Felis catus), ship rats (Rattus rattus), stoats (Mustela erminea), and least weasels (Mustela nivalis). Like other diving petrels, they seem to dive in response to threats rather than fly. They seem to escape much predation by gulls and skuas by visiting their nesting colonies mainly at night, landing briefly outside of their burrows and making a quick retreat to the safety of the burrow upon arrival. If they are forced to walk any distance on land to their burrow, there is a high probability that they will fall prey to larger birds. (Brooke, 2004; del Hoyo, et al., 1992)

  • Anti-predator Adaptations
  • cryptic

Ecosystem Roles

Common diving petrels are important predators of nearshore, deep water crustacean communities in the southern oceans. Little is known about their other ecosystem roles.

Economic Importance for Humans: Positive

Common diving petrels are unique members of their southern ocean nearshore communities.

Economic Importance for Humans: Negative

There are no adverse effects of common diving petrels on humans.

Conservation Status

Common diving petrels have a wide range and large population sizes, they are considered "least concern" by the IUCN. Their extended residence time on breeding colonies makes them particularly vulnerable to non-native predators, such as weasels. Populations are estimated to number 14 million birds worldwide. (Brooke, 2004)

Other Comments

The species name urinatrix comes from the Latin "urinator," which means diver. (Brooke, 2004)

Diving petrels are strikingly similar physically and ecologically to the northern hemisphere puffins, murres, and auklets (Alcidae), especially little auks (Alle alle). (Brooke, 2004)


Tanya Dewey (author), Animal Diversity Web.


Atlantic Ocean

the body of water between Africa, Europe, the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), and the western hemisphere. It is the second largest ocean in the world after the Pacific Ocean.

World Map

Pacific Ocean

body of water between the southern ocean (above 60 degrees south latitude), Australia, Asia, and the western hemisphere. This is the world's largest ocean, covering about 28% of the world's surface.

World Map


uses sound to communicate


young are born in a relatively underdeveloped state; they are unable to feed or care for themselves or locomote independently for a period of time after birth/hatching. In birds, naked and helpless after hatching.

bilateral symmetry

having body symmetry such that the animal can be divided in one plane into two mirror-image halves. Animals with bilateral symmetry have dorsal and ventral sides, as well as anterior and posterior ends. Synapomorphy of the Bilateria.


an animal that mainly eats meat


uses smells or other chemicals to communicate


the nearshore aquatic habitats near a coast, or shoreline.


used loosely to describe any group of organisms living together or in close proximity to each other - for example nesting shorebirds that live in large colonies. More specifically refers to a group of organisms in which members act as specialized subunits (a continuous, modular society) - as in clonal organisms.


having markings, coloration, shapes, or other features that cause an animal to be camouflaged in its natural environment; being difficult to see or otherwise detect.

  1. active during the day, 2. lasting for one day.

animals that use metabolically generated heat to regulate body temperature independently of ambient temperature. Endothermy is a synapomorphy of the Mammalia, although it may have arisen in a (now extinct) synapsid ancestor; the fossil record does not distinguish these possibilities. Convergent in birds.


offspring are produced in more than one group (litters, clutches, etc.) and across multiple seasons (or other periods hospitable to reproduction). Iteroparous animals must, by definition, survive over multiple seasons (or periodic condition changes).


Having one mate at a time.


having the capacity to move from one place to another.

native range

the area in which the animal is naturally found, the region in which it is endemic.


active during the night

oceanic islands

islands that are not part of continental shelf areas, they are not, and have never been, connected to a continental land mass, most typically these are volcanic islands.


reproduction in which eggs are released by the female; development of offspring occurs outside the mother's body.


the regions of the earth that surround the north and south poles, from the north pole to 60 degrees north and from the south pole to 60 degrees south.

saltwater or marine

mainly lives in oceans, seas, or other bodies of salt water.

seasonal breeding

breeding is confined to a particular season


remains in the same area


reproduction that includes combining the genetic contribution of two individuals, a male and a female


associates with others of its species; forms social groups.


uses touch to communicate


that region of the Earth between 23.5 degrees North and 60 degrees North (between the Tropic of Cancer and the Arctic Circle) and between 23.5 degrees South and 60 degrees South (between the Tropic of Capricorn and the Antarctic Circle).


uses sight to communicate


Brooke, M. 2004. Albatrosses and petrels across the world. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

del Hoyo, J., A. Elliott, J. Sargatal. 1992. Handbook of the Birds of the World, Volume I. Barcelona: Lynx Edicions.